… And only one person showed up.

The meeting was yesterday at 2 p.m. It was an open session, which meant that anyone could attend and anyone who wanted to speak to the board would be given the opportunity. The admin and the school board club followed all of the necessary procedures to abide by the laws regarding the announcement of the meeting, but they did the minimum requirements. There was no special notice on the website, no announcement anywhere except where required. If one were a suspicious person, one might think they were purposely avoiding any extra effort in order to keep the meeting below the radar of taxpayers.

Nah – they would never do such a thing.

The meeting was to announce the board’s annual superintendent evaluation. For the rubber-stamping N-MUSD trustees, the meeting is a formality; a process the board has to go through each year before they do what they always do: Give the super more taxpayer dollars and extend his contract even though it is not up for renewal.

Nice work if you can get it.

The meeting lasted about five minutes, after which everyone left to conduct the evaluation in closed session. Board President Dana Black graciously asked if I wished to speak, an invitation that I declined.

Trustee Martha Fluor explained that this meeting is usually held in June but as it was an election year… something or other.

About that election year. Imagine what may have happened had the school board club followed its usual protocol and held this meeting in June, then announced that the super would be getting more taxpayer dough. That could have been an election- changer so it is no wonder that they held off until just after election day.

From now on, let’s conduct the evaluation in June, regardless of whether there is an election, eh? After all, the super’s performance is what it is – either he deserves more taxpayer dough or he doesn’t and the school board club members should have the courage and consistency to conduct this process in a predictable fashion so that taxpayers do not have to work so hard to understand what’s going on.

But the admin and the school board club don’t really care about what taxpayers think. Oh, yes, they respond to outrage, such as the outrage over the new stadium at CdM High or Swun math or the 80′ monster poles at Estancia, but trustees who really cared what taxpayers thought would never have allowed these debacles to develop in the first place. They would have taken the time to ask around, build consensus, then launch a properly adjusted program or development accordingly. That’s responsible leadership.

The super will be getting more money. On that, you can rely. It may be a straight up raise, could be some more expense money, could be something else, but he’ll get more money.

There are lots of ways to move your money around and reward the super but regardless of what it is, it’s more money and you’re paying for it.

After all, he’s the district CEO, remember? That was the private sector analogy that club member Vicki Snell offered during a candidate forum this year. She said we need to pay top dollar to attract the best candidates and besides, our super’s pay is about in the middle of his peers. If we use that analogy, there is some rationale for giving the super a raise, despite a tenure marked with mismanagement, poor communication, embarrassing lawsuits, and more. It’s not a good rationale, but it is a rationale nonetheless. Here’s how it works:

The companies run by the CEOs of the S&P 500 employee about 17% of the U.S. workforce. Many of these businesses are performing badly, but their CEOs are still rewarded handsomely. Why? Because just like the N-MUSD, they are paid based on what their competitor CEOs (in our case, other school district supers) are making instead of paying based on performance. If the N-MUSD paid for performance, our super would owe us money.

That’s how it works in the S&P 500. In the real world – the smaller companies that employee the overwhelming majority of U.S. workers – performance and accountability are everything. In other words, if you don’t produce, you’re out.

I don’t mind paying based on performance and I don’t think anyone else would mind, either. It’s that “value” concept I mentioned a few posts ago – the idea that as long as you are getting what you paid for, everyone is happy. If things are going well in the district, pay for the performance.

But things are not going well. In fact, things are the worst I’ve seen in the 30 years I’ve lived here. There was the string of lawsuits by John Caldecott that exposed financial monkey business – lawsuits that the district fought and lost.

  • There is a pending lawsuit by two former respected employees who are claiming that the superintendent created “’a culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation’” among top district personnel.” (OC Register)
  • There is the bungling of the new stadium development at CM High and the ongoing bungling of the new stadium at CdM High.
  • 80′ poles at Estancia
  • Swun Math
  • Gold Ribbon application at Mariners
  • Prom draft at CdM High
  • And much more…

And of course, we just witnessed the admin and the board pinching pennies with classified and certificated employees in recent negotiations, but apparently there was some money for the super discovered in a sock drawer.

What really concerns me, though, is that through all of this terrible management, there has not been a single word of apology from anyone – not from the super and not from anyone on the school board club. No one has had the decency to stand up and take ownership of any of these events and apologize to taxpayers for wasting our money and for bringing negative national attention to at least one of these events.

Apologies are what good leaders do. Mary Barra did it in front of the U.S. Congress in March, 2014. Barra is the CEO of General Motors and before Congress, she said, “Today’s GM will do the right thing. That begins with my sincere apologies to everyone who has been affected by this recall, especially the families and friends (of those) who lost their lives or were injured. I am deeply sorry.”

Barra did this just two months after she was appointed CEO.

So, despite all of the incredibly poorly managed affairs in the district, the superintendent will get more money and another contract extension. He will get it without having to explain why there is such turmoil or why teacher morale is so low or why he is being sued by two former respected employees or why it is taking so long to dump Swun math or why a Gold Ribbon application prompted an unprecedented intervention by the teacher union or anything else.

And he certainly is not going to say he’s sorry for any of it, either. Only weak people say they’re sorry, right? Well, that’s what weak people think. In fact, the opposite is true. From Psychology Today, “We tend to view apologies as a sign of weak character. But in fact, they require great strength. A genuine apology offered and accepted is one of the most profound interactions of civilized people.”

At the end of yesterday’s meeting and at the end of every day on Bear St., it is what it always is: Business as usual.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD