The district’s website indicates that tonight’s school board meeting will end at 8:00 p.m. I’m glad that is clarified because I’ve been wondering why the seven rubber stampers rarely question any of the millions of your tax dollars they approve twice a month.

Now I know: They want to leave by 8!

I’ll See Your Fee Hike and Raise You 100%
Item no. 14.a.29 includes the staff recommendation to increase the cost of a school bus pass. This wouldn’t be so bad because the fees have been mismanaged for about 20 years, resulting in massive red ink, but the problem is that the administration isn’t just raising the fees, they want to double them.

I’m all for having the bus pass program become self-supporting, but this is not the way to do it. My guess is that doubling the fee is only going to increase the number of hardship applications, which could actually result in a bigger deficit.

The part that made me smile was this line: “Although the Transportation Department continues to operate as efficiently as possible…” Um, no, the TD is not operating as efficiently as possible. If it were, they wouldn’t be doubling the bus pass fee.

I hope that the board recognizes the burden this will place on some parents, primarily in Costa Mesa, and acknowledge that the law of diminishing returns applies here, and reject this recommendation. Instead, someone on the board should recommend an increase that is phased-in over 4 years. The bus program has been sucking millions out of the budget for a very long time. Three or four more years won’t make a difference, except to the families who are already struggling.

You Should Have Gone to Law School
The board will rubber stamp another half a million tax dollars in legal services without questioning it.

We Love Our Pizza at the N-MUSD
One of the more interesting items on the agenda is 14.b.11, which is a recommendation to award “Contracts for Nutrition Services Vending Services and Branded Foods.” So what is a “branded food?” No, it’s not some cow hand using a hot poker to stamp “N-MUSD” on slices of bread, it’s a fancy term for fast food. The contracts to be rubber stamped tonight include money for Pick Up Stix and Subway and FOUR resources for pizza, including Domino’s. One of the pizza providers is listed on the agenda as “Salmex Pizza,” which is actually a Domino’s location on Harbor Blvd.

I guess is Pizza and sub sandwiches are the most nutritious foods the district could find. And remember, ketchup is a vegetable.

Even a Broken Clock…
There is some good news, though. The bulk rubber stamping of all staff recommendations includes a partnership with “Big Brothers Big Sisters of Orange County for the High School Bigs Program at Wilson Elementary School for the 2015-16 School Year.” The idea is to provide mentors for at-risk kids, which is good. Maybe they can all go out for pizza together.

Correction: You Should Have Gone to Counseling School
Following pizza and mentors, the board will also rubber stamp approval of counseling for people at Newport Harbor High School. Item 14.b.13 is the recommendation to “Approve Memo of Understanding with Turning Point for Families for Newport Harbor High School for the 2015/16 School Year.”

“Contract is for $360 for one counseling hour per week for 30 weeks funding by the Newport Harbor High School Foundation. For each 2 hours paid, the third hour will be Pro Bono for 30 weeks.”

The other information included is:

Turning Point Center for Families is a non-profit, bi-lingual counseling center that provides affordable prevention, intervention and therapeutic services to youth, individuals, and families. Their mission is to provide prevention, intervention and therapeutic counseling services.”


“Current Consideration:
Newport Harbor High School students will benefit from individual and group counseling sessions.  Turning Point will provide training and supervision of the Intern Counselors by fully licensed Marriage and Family Counselors.”

There is no explanation as to what prompted the need for “prevention, intervention and therapeutic counseling services” at NHHS, it’s just a request to spend a net $240 per hour for counseling (Each two hours paid gets you one hour at no charge). To give you some perspective on the outrageous fee for this counseling, the senior partner in the aforementioned law firm that will be getting almost half a million dollars of your tax dollars will be charging you $220 per hour.

But it’s OK because there is more of your tax money growing on the tree behind district headquarters.

Is That Heroin I Smell?
The board will also rubber stamp the approval of drug-sniffing dogs on a campus or campuses. Item 14.d.7 is a recommendation to spend up to $40,000 for the services of Interquest Detection Canines. Here’s the supporting text:

“Over twenty five years ago, the staff of Interquest introduced the use of trained detection canines to schools in Texas.  The concept gathered wide acceptance as a tool to deter and validate the presence of drugs on the school campus.  The Horton vs. Goose Creek ISD case in the early 1980’s set the modern day parameters for the use of dogs in school.  Policies and procedures were developed to ensure that the program was both effective and within legal guidelines.  With over 120 school districts under contract in the early 1990’s, Interquest expanded operation to California and Michigan.  Immediately the program was readily accepted and provided and effective tool to determine the presence of prohibited items in schools.  The program also solidified a school’s desire to maintain a safe and secure learning environment for all concerned.

Current Consideration:
Interquest Detection Canines operates successfully in 10 sates.  They serve over 600 public and private schools.  They provide an effective program to determine the presence of narcotics, alcohol, weapons and other inappropriate items on campus.  They are a deterrent to the presence of contraband. ”

Yikes. But do you think any of the board members will ask how much of a deterrent drug-sniffing dogs are (based on a best practices approach) or whether there are more effective, long-term solutions? No, they won’t.

The problem here is that so many of these actions address symptoms, not problems. Instead of moving upstream to address the real problem, the staff recommends action that addresses nothing. So they catch a kid with a joint in his sock or some coke in his shoe. So what? Is that a measure of success? Has anyone stopped to consider this absurdity as a waste of tax dollars that will do nothing to reduce drug use? Will it stop the presence of drugs on campus? No. It may reduce it by a little, but that’s not the problem here and it may not reduce it at all. As Karen Yelsey pointed out in January, drug use is “rampant.” A few dogs with good noses is not going to change “rampant” to nil or even make it decline at all. We’re dealing here with clever kids and I guarantee you that if they want to shoot up in the bathroom, they’ll find a way to do it even with dogs running around.

But what I really want to know is, after narcotics, alcohol, and weapons, what is left to be considered an “inappropriate item?” Maybe it’s a key logger to use for grade hacking.

A Rose by Any Other Name
Bureaucracies love to do this kind of stuff. The board will approve the change of title for the Director of Communications, Office of Public Information to Communications and Public Relations Officer and make it a senior management position.

Remember This…
Just a reminder that everything that happens in our school district, good and bad, is the ultimate responsibility of the Superintendent. Regardless of how many people insulate this position, whatever happens on his watch belongs to him.

The fun starts tonight at 6 p.m. And remember this, too: It ends promptly at 8.

Steve Smith