One of the best things about attending school board candidate forums is that we get to hear the school board club members speak without a teleprompter, that is, without the structure of a school board club meeting in which they can anticipate questions and have prepared responses.

At the forum last Wednesday night, for example, we heard school board president Dana Black attempt to justify the superintendent’s big salary by claiming that the cost of living in these parts is high – yes, it is – and that the big taxpayer bucks are needed to allow the top-level people to live here because “we want the administrators to be a part of our neighborhood.”

Yes, she actually said that. I wrote it down.

Supt. Frederick Navarro lives in Long Beach.

For the record, Frederick Navarro’s predecessor, Jeff Hubbard, lived in Newport Beach.

There was a reference to Supt. Frederick Navarro making more than some of his peers and less than others.

Lack-of-Trustee Vicki Snell tried to compare the super’s super salary with that of a CEO running a private business. I almost choked on my Jujyfruit.

You see, in most private businesses, a CEO who has mismanaged the business/district as badly as ours would be terminated. Or, he or she would have the decency to admit that they’re over their heads and that they’ve had enough time to right the ship but can’t – and resign.

But in public bureaucracies, it doesn’t work that way. In public bureaucracies, everyone rises to their level of incompetence and stays there.

Black and Snell and the other school board club members don’t seem to understand the fundamental problem with the superintendent’s salary. It has little to do with the dollar amount and almost everything to do with performance. To a consumer, it’s a simple concept called value. In this case, no one would be complaining about the super’s salary if the district were not always in the news with 0ne scandal or mismanaged affair after another. But it is. And CdM High, well, that’s another story (see blog post #3).

The district is poorly managed by this superintendent. Time after time, he refuses to roll up his sleeves and get his hands dirty by stepping into the middle of the string of scandals, choosing instead to let subordinates take the heat while he grows his “cabinet” with more bureaucrats to further insulate him from bad news. And he even fired 10-year highly-respected HR chief John Caldecott by e-mail, but not before he first sent him a text message to check his e-mail. Nice touch, eh?

At the forum, challenger Amy Peters said it best. The N-MUSD is a “top down” organization and that is the least effective way to run this operation.

No es bueno.

Once again, there was a disgraceful attempt to link the district’s poor performance in some CM schools with the amount of English language learners there.

So, I’ll repeat what I have been writing for long time: Those Spanish-speaking kids have been in the district for decades. Our well-paid bureaucrats should have cracked the code by now, but they haven’t. But instead of doing the right thing and holding anyone accountable or refusing to give them raises until performance improves, they continue to make more and more taxpayer money with no accountability.

Nice work if you can get it.

Time for Term Limits?

When the question was asked about whether term limits are a good idea, the needle moved a bit. Snell seemed to be keeping an open mind, but I am confident that her school board club colleagues will convince her to get on the side of no term limits in short order.

Black is opposed to term limits and wanted everyone to know that she used to be for them and ran two campaigns to oust Trustee Judy Franco and delivered a patronizing line to challenger Leslie Bubb about the “amazing people I have in my zone” while looking and smiling at Bubb. Oh, Puh-leeze. But apparently, Bubb is not amazing enough for Black to end her campaign and support Bubb’s candidacy.

Once again, the club members missed the larger point. The only reason that the subject of term limits is being discussed is because the performance of the school board club is so bad. Whether it’s paying big money to a bureaucrat not to retire, an out-of-control high school, or any of the other screaming headlines of the past few years, they have demonstrated an inability to control the administration that reports to them. They ask very few substantive questions, do not demand any accountability or follow-up, and just rubber stamp the approval of whatever is presented to them.

That’s why people are demanding term limits – not because 8 or 12 seems like a nice number of years to serve.

The problem in the administration and on the school board club can be boiled down to one word: complacency.

And to use Snell’s private sector analogy, complacency is the beginning of the end for any business.

Steve Smith