The past five weeks since the last post have been very busy, not so much with school issues, but with work and family. I want these posts to be meaningful and it’s sometimes hard to write that way after busy days. It’s quality over quantity.

Schools are back in session and there was a board meeting last night. The Board Meeting Brief (BMB), which is e-mailed prior to each board meeting, is a preview of what will be discussed. It is a voluntary act by the district and while it is better than no preview, it continues to fall short in a couple of key areas.

First, it is usually sent out the day before the meeting, which serves no purpose for anyone who sees something of interest and is considering attending. The BMB for last night’s meeting was sent 27 hours ahead of the start of the meeting. Meeting agendas are finalized long before that – or should be – and if the district were truly interested in increasing community participation and awareness, they would make more of an effort to issue the BMB sooner. Even if for some reason the agenda is only 90% complete three or four days prior, it is better to send a BMB based on that than to wait until the last minute.

That would be the community-focused thing to do, but the district has a lengthy track record of not really caring what the community thinks. This includes, among many examples, announcing special sessions at the very last minute, holding community forums and doing nothing with the input, and charging $32 for breakfast for the state-of-the-schools pep rally – a cost that many of Costa Mesa’s Westside parents cannot afford. (NOTE: The first pep rally was held at a time when most people would be working. The start time is now 7 a.m.)

The biggest example of rejecting outside input was the years of ignoring teacher and parent complaints about Swun Math. Despite repeated please to start a major overhaul or scrap the program altogether, the district did nothing. It was only until the buzz got so loud that they finally dumped it through grade five. Why are sixth graders still suffering with it has not been sufficiently explained.

This Stinks!

There’s another major instance of ignoring the community, too, which surfaced last night. Estancia High has been troubled by a foul smell for about eight years. My son, who graduated from the school in 2010, told me last night that it was present when he was a student.

Last night, there was an update on what the  district’s Facilities, Maintenance, & Operations Dept. has done while the superintendent and other bureaucrats were away. (The super is one of the top brass who is contracted to work only 224 days each year. Deputy Whatever Russell Lee-Sung is another and we’ll get to that shortly.)

The update included a presentation by the company hired to find and fix the source of the smell. What struck me about the remarks was the mention of the levels of noxious odors. It was positioned that these odors were not at harmful levels, as if anyone who has to smell the smells really cares. This positioning reminded me of the clear conflict of interest the district was in over some surveying a couple of years ago. When this was brought to the board’s attention, then-Deputy Whatever Paul Reed had the moxie to say that there was no “legal conflict of interest.” As if being legal mattered, too.

Tell all this to Steve Crenshaw, a teacher at Estancia, who told the board after the presentation that the odor has caused him severe asthma and migraines. Another teacher has filed for Workers’ Comp over the smell. Crenshaw had trouble getting through his remarks, which silenced the room. When he was done, not a single board member expressed any concern about him or his situation or the smell – no one said a word.

This foot-dragging is leading to yet another lawsuit. Wait for it.

When the stink discussion was winding down, Trustee Vicki Snell wanted to make sure that they find out who signed off on the faulty workmanship seven or eight years ago, as if holding that person accountable is going to accomplish anything.

If anyone is going to be held accountable, it should be Snell, who has been a trustee almost five years. Estancia is in her zone and she did nothing – or nothing effective – to end this years-long nightmare.

It’s more bungling, more botched handling of something that could have and should have been taken care of when it was first reported. Instead, we have an unpleasant campus, very sick people, and a lot of finger-pointing.

“Odorgate” is Swun Math all over again.

They’re Hooked. 

I did not come prepared to speak last night but did anyway after I noticed that a Navig8 update was on the agenda. I’ve written about Navig8 – the program that provides counseling for drug and alcohol abuse and dependency. The Navig8 program is the district’s shining star, IMO, and the best program running here. Navig8 is a tremendous effort to catch kids early and get them back on track and it’s particularly appealing because accountability is built into the process – accountability for students, teachers, and parents.

My brief remarks focused on teen cell phone addiction, which is a serious and growing national problem. I could go on and about the statistics and the damage done, but it is all summarized very well in this New York Times article:

I concluded my remarks with a request to consider adding treatment for cell phone addiction as part of the Navig8 program.


By the time I was done, it was 8 p.m. and I had to leave. I had chicken taco soup in the crockpot and it was needing my attention. Yes, we ate a little late that night, but dinner got rave reviews.

So, I did not get to see the rubber-stamping of a gazillion projects and I did not get to see the rubber-stamping of a contract amendment for Deputy Poobah Russell Lee-Sung. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but I just can’t keep up with the titles in the district. Case in point: Lee-Sung’s title is being changed. He is currently the Associate Superintendent, Chief Academic Officer and from now on he will be the Deputy Superintendent, Chief Academic Officer.


What does it mean to you and me? Nothing – it’s just more re-arranging of the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Oh, there is one thing…. The amendment states that Lee-Sung will serve as acting super on the days the super is away. For that privilege, he will be paid, “… the difference between Dr. Navarro’s base salary and Mr. Lee-Sung’s base salary to compensate Mr. Lee-Sung for his additional duties and responsibilities as Acting Superintendent.”

Only in the public sector will you see a temporary pay spike like this. I was a VP with a national firm and occasionally assumed the duties of the president when he was away. No one thought to give me his salary temporarily and I didn’t ask. That’s not what we do in the private sector. But when it’s not your own money and you don’t have to show a profit or worry about where your budget is coming from you can act like a drunken sailor and give it away.

The board should have simply told Lee-Sung that when the super is away, he’s the acting super and left it at that. There was no need to throw more taxpayer dollars at him.

Area Boundaries

I also missed the discussion and vote on holding community input meetings to choose a new boundary map for the election of trustees by zone instead of at-large. Here is the DP story on what happened:

You should go to the meetings, but keep your expectations low.  According to the DP story, “During the hearings, residents will have the chance to address the board, but there will be no discussion between board members and speakers.”

There won’t be any discussion because, as I have been telling you for years, they don’t really care what you have to say.

Steve Smith
N-MUSD Taxpayer