One of the benefits of not having a Katrina Foley-type board member is that there is no one to ask those pesky questions that hold the administration accountable for their stewardship of your tax dollars. These days, very few questions are asked at meetings and when they are, they are typically for clarification not designed to open a discussion as to what the administration is requesting, why, and to see whether there is an alternative that makes more sense. You know them as “softballs.”

They like it like that.

Last night, the board breezed through the entire agenda in about 70 minutes, which got me home in time to see some of the World Series. Along the way, they spent almost or about a million of your tax dollars on compensation for Supt. Navarro by way of a commitment to another three years to his reign. Unfortunately, no one on the board thinks that way – no one looks at the money we’re paying and asks, “Are we getting all we should? What is working? What is not?” Instead, there is blind faith – hope – that everything is being run well.

Hope is not a strategy.

We cannot hope that the students in Costa Mesa receive the commitment they deserve from this administration in the form of a comprehensive academic improvement plan. Instead, kids get a piecemeal, tactical approach that include methods such as teaching them in Chinese.

But no one on the board thinks like that. No one on the board thought to question what is happening at College Park Elementary, where some kids are being taught in Chinese. At College Park, 83% of the kids there failed to meet the state Common Core standards for math and 80% failed to meet the standards for English. But someone, or some people, thought it was a good idea to start teaching some of the College Park kids in Chinese.

Will teaching kids in Chinese boost academic performance? It seems to me that before we start tinkering with something as important as the early stages of a child’s education, we’d better make certain that the program we are launching has been proven elsewhere to improve grades and test scores. It’s a process called “best practices” and it’s meant to create the most effective, most efficient systems and programs.

No one thought to look at the superintendent’s contract to determine whether he is being held accountable for academic performance. Of the 11 “duties and responsibilities” listed in the superintendent’s contract, not one of them insists that he create strategic plans to improve academic performance or do anything at all to improve grades and test scores. In fact, there is no reference whatsoever to ensuring an improvement of academic performance.

Instead, his duties are limited to “acting as this” and “informing the board of that” and “adhering to whatever” and so on. It’s all quite vague and subjective.

The mantra being chanted throughout the district by the current bureaucrats is “making sure our students are prepared for the 21st century.” (Or, “21st Century” – capital “c” – as the supt. wrote in his DOTS memo last week.) But has anyone clearly defined exactly what that means? Has anyone set firm goals and a timeline by which progress can and should be measured so that we know we are succeeding?

No, of course not. That would mean accountability and there is very little of that these days in the N-MUSD.

So, on we go, round and round each month: Lather. Rinse. Repeat. No one on the board raises issues of accountability or asks any tough questions because, well, I have come to the conclusion that they don’t ask because they don’t care.

A million dollars just doesn’t buy what it used to.

Steve Smith