As usual, last night’s board meeting was notable not for what was said, but for what was not said. The absence of any probing questions or deep discussions about staff proposals should be disturbing to all taxpayers. (See my previous post on whether we even need a school board.)

Of particular note at last night’s board meeting was the obvious indignation and frustration of at least a couple of people in response to the questions asked by Trustee Vicki Snell.

Snell continues to be the only one on the dais who is consistently asking questions and requesting details of items on which the board is about to vote. And if that bothers anyone on the staff or the board, too bad. The administration and the board are conducting the business of the people of Newport-Mesa and managing a budget of well over $200 million tax dollars. It is an awesome responsibility that too many people on the staff and the board have taken lightly for far too long.

Drug Sniffing Dogs Approved

Despite her request for details, Snell only scratched the surface of what needed to be discussed. There was no discussion of the doubling of school bus fees and no discussion of the contract to allow drug-sniffing dogs on campus.

Had the board or the administration done at least a little research into the effectiveness and wisdom of using drug-sniffing dogs, they would have found that they are not a deterrent and that they are often wrong. In fact, “false positive” ratings are as high as 50%. Part of the reason for the high failure rate is the method of training. Some dog training programs reward dogs when they suspect something, leading to an abundance of discoveries. (These dogs are smart and they’ve figured out the short cut to getting a treat.)

There is also evidence that campus morale can decline severely when dogs are present because it creates an atmosphere of suspicion in which everyone is presumed guilty.

Then there’s the matter of the ACLU, which is watching these programs carefully.

Finally, how about this one… Here’s the link to the website of a former narc who blows the whistle on the effectiveness of drug-sniffing dogs. It is a clear, rational argument that, had it been read, would have caused anyone last night to vote “no.”

Here’s an excerpt: “The study, published in the January issue of the journal Animal Cognition, found that detection-dog teams erroneously “alerted,” or identified a scent, when there was no scent present more than 200 times — particularly when the handler believed that there was scent present.”

BTW, everything I needed to know to make an informed decision on drug-sniffing dogs took me about 15 minutes.

Can’t wait to see the reaction when the dogs show up at CdM High.

Money Does Not Bring Happiness

Several reputable studies have shown that. So it’s unclear as to why the staff recommended, and the board approved, a 100% hike in the cost of school bus fees. The additional revenue will not make a dent in the approximately $6 million deficit the program runs each year and I am guessing it will only increase the number of students who ride at reduced or no fees. So why did they do it? Because they wanted to look responsible. After almost 20 years of no fee hikes, the staff and the board finally get around to fixing the problem and make an abominable error in judgment.

Student Services – Picking Up Where Parents Leave Off

The district has a comprehensive student services program that provides many forms of counseling and intervention. In the past, I was opposed to such programs because I believed that these were areas of parental responsibility. And in a few areas, I still believe that. But as the father of two adult “children,” I understand now that something like a Student Services department is necessary because most parents – most parents – fail to pay attention to or take the appropriate steps to manage their children. When you put hundreds or thousands of kids in one location, the absence of that parental attention is magnified.

Last night, Phil D’Agostino gave an extensive overview of the district’s Student Services program. I’ll spare you the details, except to say this: If for no other reason than there is a mental health component to this program, it is worth having. Mental illness is not only underdiagnosed, it is not properly managed when it is. There are many students on our campuses who are suffering from depression, personality disorders, and even schizophrenia. They need to be identified and receive proper care now, not later on when their condition is worse.

Police departments are just now getting around to understanding that a mentally ill person should not and cannot be treated the same as a criminal. Anything the district can to do identify mental illness and provide resources is beneficial to society.

Running Late

Had it not been for Snell’s responsible questions, the meeting would have ended before 8 p.m., which was the time designated on the district’s website. Instead, it ended a few minutes after 8. Did it make a difference? No. It’s still business as usual on Bear St.

Steve Smith