In an editorial published in yesterday’s Orange County Register, writer Julie Collier points out what I pointed out a few days ago. In a nutshell, she writes that the California Department of Education’s (CDE) new “Gold Ribbon” school status is bogus. She also writes what I have been noting for about two years, namely, that the CDE has conveniently erased all methods of comparing schools year over year.

“While we all want to cheer on and replicate good schools,” she writes, “we, as parents, cannot ignore the fact that our state is going on its third year without comparable testing data outcomes.”

I thought of the lack of comparison as my wife and I drove down Placentia Ave. in Costa Mesa to the Trader Joe’s store on 17th St. earlier this evening. On the way, we passed two new Westside condo complexes – ugly boxes with no charm, located in places no one wants to be. The boxes on Placentia start in the “high $500,000’s.”

That’s a lot of dough for living in an ugly building in a part of town that has no charm.

As we passed both developments, we noticed that almost all of the units we could see from the street were empty, despite the fact that they had been on the market for several months. A couple of stats:

  • There were 7% fewer homes coming on the market through mid-February compared to the prior year.
  • With an expected market time of only 37 days, home values are climbing and it is a deep seller’s market.

So why aren’t these condos selling? Lots of reasons:

  1. They’re ugly
  2. They’re located in undesirable areas
  3. The local schools are floundering

“But Steve,” you say, “The target audience for these condos are hipsters with no kids. They don’t care about the schools.”

You could say that, but you’d be wrong. Good schools are a top barometer for home buyers regardless of whether they have kids, plan to have kids, or will never have kids.

The disconnect between these homes, the schools, and the school board club’s lack of interest in doing anything meaningful to improve academic performance on Costa Mesa’s Westside may be approaching a nexus point in the very near future.

Across the state, city voting protocols have been changing faster than the pitchers on the Angels’ roster, moving from an at-large voting process to a district voting process. This change is forcing cities to do what they should have done a long time ago, namely, to provide easier access for minority representation on their governing bodies.

In Costa Mesa, there is a ballot measure in November that will allow citizens, about a third of whom are Latino, to decide whether they want to continue with an at-large voting process. The council voted to place the measure on the ballot rather than face a lawsuit from attorney Kevin Shenkman, who is representing Latino interests and the interests of justice.

From the Los Angeles Times story about Costa Mesa’s decision:

“Under the [California Voting Rights Act/CVRA], at-large voting is sort of going the way of the dinosaur, it appears,” said lawyer Kim Barlow, who negotiated on behalf of the city to avoid a lawsuit by Shenkman in exchange for putting the district system to a public vote. “It is very difficult to defend a case brought under the CVRA and very, very expensive to litigate a case brought under the CVRA.”

The Costa Mesa City Council made a wise decision.

It’s only a matter of time before the N-MUSD is threatened with the same lawsuit. But instead of acting in the best interests of the district so that Costa Mesa’s Latino population can have a Latino representative, the school board club will spend an absurd amount of money to prevent the change, money that could go toward improving the very schools that have failed to receive adequate attention for decades. That money, which could be millions of dollars, could also be given as salary increases to the teachers that the school board club claims they love so much.

So where is Superintendent Frederick Navarro on all this? How does the district’s leader feel about the switch to district voting? Beats me. Like most other key issues, he will:

a. Decline to comment

b. Defer to a subordinate

c. Wait until the school board club has made their position clear and support that position.

About 23 years ago, a top financial official in the N-MUSD, Stephen Wagner, was convicted of embezzling about $3.7 million dollars from the district in what was then the largest embezzlement of district funds in California school history.

School board club member Judy Franco said at the time of Wagner’s death in 1995, “Here was a man who had a promising career but allowed himself to succumb to a weakness, if you will, and take money that was intended for the education of children,” Franco said.

So, I ask you: What is the difference between Stephen Wagner stealing $3.7 million dollars and the school board club spending that much in legal fees to defend lawsuits from John Caldecott, Laura Boss and Ann Huntington, and, potentially, Kevin Shenkman?

The answer: One is illegal, the other is irresponsible. The similarity: Both “take money that was intended for the education of children.”

Steve Smith