It was a tough choice: Attend last night’s school board meeting or watch baseball’s All-Star game. For those readers who are not baseball fans, the All-Star game is critical as it determines which league – American or National – will have the home advantage in the World Series.

I chose the meeting because I wanted to witness the outcome of two votes. In the end, both votes were rubber stamped 7-0 as the school board gave away hundreds of thousands of your tax dollars in compensation to people who didn’t have to work harder or more efficiently, all they had to do was ask. It’s one of those giveaways in the summer when they think no one is watching.

After watching the board for so many years, I have come to learn that the longer an explanation on the agenda, the more suspicious we should be. The pay raise to the administrative segment of the district’s employee population required such a lengthy explanation to get their hands on your money that I thought they were trying to cover the cost of tickets to Disneyland, which now cost a fortune.

The good news is that Deputy Super Paul Reed’s rationale for the money grab included a slide show without any cartoon-y images and no condescending humor. This money grab stuff is serious business.

The bad news is that once again, the seven board members did not have a clue as to what he was talking about. Plus, they couldn’t recognize when he misled them, as he did when he presented a slide that had these three bullet points:

  • Some people abused [the retirement compensation] system
  • [Spiking] final salaries in a grab at more retirement
  • N-MUSD has NOT done that

In a sense, Reed may be correct, though I am not satisfied with the audit processes to date. But the fact is that although the N-MUSD may not have DONE it, they did TRY it – several years ago when Jeff Hubbard was the Super. He got his hands slapped by the state retirement system in return. I wrote about this several weeks ago and included the timeline and the people involved.

During Reed’s presentation, the board members tried hard to look pensive and intelligent, but it was no use: They had no idea what he was describing and just waited for Reed to lead them down the assigned path toward the eventual unanimous approval of this travesty.

It’s bad enough that people who are already very well paid are going to make even more, but it’s worse in light of the fact that negotiations with two unions are dragging on. There was no urgency for last night’s vote on the pay raise – the board could have and should have waited until union negotiations were completed, but they did not. After the vote, the union representatives present were visibly upset.

One of the two unions in negotiations is the Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers. Last night’s pay raise vote proved what I have been saying for years: The board claims to “love” our teachers, but it’s not true. When push comes to shove, teachers are not given nearly as much respect as they deserve. One of these days, I hope they will express their frustration to the board in a clear, organized fashion that will expose the board’s hypocrisy.

About three quarters of the way through this sham, I leaned over to Sandy Asper, who was sitting in front of me, and said, “I wish they’d just rubber stamp it already and get it over with.” I did not have to wait too much longer. Asper, BTW hosts a series of excellent interviews with various community leaders that you can see here.

I smiled broadly several times through this charade, first when I saw the initial spin. Instead of a pay raise, this joke was called a “salary restructuring.” Oh, puh-lease…

The next time I laughed was during the rationale when Reed claimed that the pay raise supported “totally transparent” operations. Oh, yeah, all of a sudden this administration is concerned about transparency.

Ultimately, it was a long pitch for a pay raise. And Karen Yelsey didn’t even use her MBA knowledge to ask a single question. Only one board member did and it was a softball that Reed knocked out of the park.

The fix was in from the start. I know because right after the vote, board president Martha Fluor read a prepared statement telling us why it’s good that taxpayers got screwed.

Next time, kiss me first.

Steve Smith

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