I chose not to attend last night’s school board club meeting because I had a client project deadline. That’s too bad, because there were several important agenda items that were rubber stamped.

But before we get to those, and before we get to the Orange County Register story on the fiscal irresponsibility at the N-MUSD, let’s take a look at the handy “Board Meeting Brief” that is issued by the Superintendent just prior to each school board club meeting.

The Brief could be useful to those who wish to receive some advanced notice of the hot topics in case they want to head down and speak up. This week’s Brief included a mention of item 12.b which is that the ” Report on Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for Corona del Mar Sports Field.” The stadium is one of the hottest topics – if not THE hottest topic in CdM, and certainly in Eastbluff.

The Brief  included this gem: Item 17.d. Receive Information from District’s Legal Counsel Pertaining to Term Limits for the Board of Education. 

This is just the staff telling the school board club to receive the information. But in the agenda comments that follow, there is a clear indication of how the wind will blow:

The Education Code permits term limits to be established by an election.  The election is required to be held at a regularly scheduled Board election.  The election can be called either by the Board of Education or through the initiative process.  Currently very few school districts have term limits for school board members. (Education Code reference section 35107)

That last line – the one about the comparison with other school districts – is about as obvious as it gets. The district is merely going through the motions of considering term limits when they have absolutely no intention of adopting them, now or ever. They like things just the way they are, thank you very much.

The Brief could have included item 15.a.1. which is a recommendation to “Approve Increase to Previous Board Approved Budget Authorization for the Provisions of Legal Services from Atkinson Andelson Loya Ruud & Romo Pertaining to Legal Support Services” but it didn’t. This recommendation makes up to $100,000 more available to the law firm and brings the total legal fees authorized for 2016-17 for this firm to $500,000. But it didn’t.

According to the agenda description they need more dough for legal fees “Due to the quantity and complexity of legal issues facing the District.”

Complexity, I understand. Legal matters can get complex, especially when there is no incentive to save taxpayer dollars. But quantity??? Apparently, there are more lawsuits than anticipated so more taxpayer dough has to be allocated to defending them. Paraphrasing Trustee Judy Franco many years ago, this is money that should go to the education of our children.

Perhaps we can educate them on how to avoid lawsuits.

The brief could have included item “15.c.2. Receive 2016-2017 Classified, Supervisory, and Confidential Salary Schedules” which shows the salaries of the top brass, including the five top people who, collectively, make over $1,000,000. And that’s just their salaries – no perks or add-ons such as phone allowances. But it didn’t.

So what was in the Brief? Five items, two of which are dissected here. The other three are:

10.a. Recognition of Fall Athletic Sports Champion – NHHS Girls Field Hockey. Newport Harbor High School’s Girls Field Hockey team is being recognized for their championship in the Fall Tournament of Champions.

10.b. Recognize 2016-2017 District Teacher of the Year Recipients. Jackie Wiseman from  Kaiser Elementary and Jim Blackie from Ensign Intermediate School were selected as District Teachers of the Year and will represent Newport-Mesa Unified School District in the Orange County Department of Education Teacher of the Year program.

12.a. 50th Anniversary Student Board Member Report – 1970’s. As part of the 50th anniversary Early College High School student board members will present on what it was like to be in school in the 1970’s in Newport-Mesa.

But wait, there’s more…

The Orange County Register just wrote about a deeper dive into the payout for former Deputy Super Paul Reed who retired last Dec. and is reaping major tax dollars. You can read it here: http://www.ocregister.com/articles/district-742739-reed-benefits.html

The ridiculous amount of money thrown at Reed is one issue. The other issues are the very bad precedents this creates and the exposure of a lack of consistency in the district’s rewarding of your tax dollars.

How is it – as you can read in the Register article – that the district can make major exceptions to reward Reed with hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax money, but they can’t make an exception to give $7,500 to Fulbright Award winner Brian Ristow, who has just left for New Zealand and will bring back valuable information to help improve academic performance?

The lack of adherence to a firm policy opens the door for the district to hand out your tax dollars any way they want.

And you know what? They like it that way.

But the truly disturbing part of the Reed Awards (Unlike the Fulbright Awards, the Reed Awards have no bearing on academic improvement), are the responses of district spokesperson Anette Franco and Trustee Karen Yelsey, who were singing from the same district page:

“‘The Board of Education approved Reed’s contract and contract extensions, in an open forum at Board of Education meetings,’ Franco said in a statement.”

and…

“Karen Yelsey, president of the Newport-Mesa School Board, declined to explain why the board approved Reed’s health benefit extension, only saying he was an ‘extraordinary employee’ and that ‘all of the benefits Mr. Reed received were approved in open session at our regular Board of Education meetings.’”

So Reed was an extraordinary employee. So what does that make Brian Ristow, who won a highly-coveted and respected Fulbright Award?

Trotting out the “open forum” explanation is no excuse for throwing around taxpayer dollars like they grow on a tree. It’s what bureaucrats do when they don’t have a legitimate reason to justify their actions.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD

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