Around the same time that President Trump was presenting his state of the union address, I was speaking to the school board club. This is what I said, after a few words commending the district’s Student Services Dept. for the work they do:

“I’m here tonight  to follow-up to my comments from two weeks ago. At that time, I tried to point you in a particular direction but I failed. So tonight, I will be more clear and direct and will make some specific recommendations.

“Tonight, hopefully, you will be approving a pool budget of 9 million dollars, two million dollars over the original budget.

“So what happened? Poor project management, that’s what happened. But you know that. Between all of the staff in the administration, plus the superintendent, plus the consultants, no one determined at the outset months ago that the equality in the aquatics center that you now seek would cost 9 million dollars. As a result, you wound up with an additional $100,000 expense, a wrecked aquatics program, an irate community, and the tragic waste of tens of thousands of gallons of a precious resource.

“Mrs. Yelsey, you said at the special meeting of Jan. 11 that you would like somebody to take responsibility for this. Well, so would taxpayers and so would the aquatics teams, who, by the way, are still waiting for a formal public apology.

“Mrs. Yelsey, trustees, I am going to try to save you the time and trouble of an investigation and let you know that the superintendent is responsible, just as he is responsible for everything that happens on his watch. As an example of this, just a few hours ago, the head of Hawaii’s Emergency Management Association [sic] just resigned, even though he was not the one who actually pushed the button causing the missile alert.

“The buck stops with him. But you will never hear him accept the full weight of his position and that brings me to the real problem in the administration you oversee.

“There is a crisis in leadership. There is an atmosphere of fear and retaliation and that is, in part, why it takes so long to hear about problems such as the math program and the pool. No one dare speak up for fear of being sent to Siberia. Laura Boss and Ann Huntington tried to tell you this.

“In an attempt to end on a productive note, I will leave you with the following recommendations, based on work I have conducted in my career:

  1. Conduct a privacy-protected survey of all district employees, without any involvement by the superintendent.
  2. Start conducting privacy-protected exit interviews with every district employee who leaves and do so without any member of the administration present or only those required by law.
  3. Stop asking people to sign non-disparagement agreements – different than a non-disclosure agreement. If anyone has anything negative to say, you should encourage them to speak up, not reward or intimidate them for being silent.

“Until you do any or all of these, the district’s employees will suffer, taxpayers will suffer, and, ultimately, your collective reputation will suffer.

“Thank you.”

After the public comments section, there was more discussion about the lack of Wi-Fi (another mess) and more excuses for the lack of videos that are ADA-compliant. Probably need to hire a few consultants to figure this out, too.

The superintendent chose to respond to my remarks, without mentioning me by name. He said, approximately, that sometimes the members of the community are uniformed, or words to that effect, and even said he would love to meet – or like or be pleased to meet – with members of the community who have ideas or concerns about our schools.

During his remarks, he completely avoided acknowledging that I provided three proven recommendations last night, none of which will be implemented.

I’m happy to meet with the superintendent. But I’m tired of being the one taking the first step. He has my e-mail address and knows how to reach me.

For any trustee who wants to take a moment to reflect on my comments and those of the super’s – I mean REALLY reflect – they may find these thoughts and questions useful as prompts:

  1. Steve has a lengthy track record of reaching out to trustees and staff and meeting with them to try to improve things.
  2. Steve has a has offered multiple times to help improve district programs – and to do so at no cost to the district.
  3. What would cause a respected member of his community to speak out like this?
  4. Why do we hear so little bad news from teachers or classifieds? Is it really because everything is going so well? Or is there some merit in the lawsuit filed by Laura and Ann?
  5. These problems that Steve keeps bringing up – the baseball poles, the pool, the math program, John Caldecott, the Area lawsuit, the Mariners Gold Ribbon application, the ADA/closed caption mess, and many more – Are these just typical problems that come with running a school district, or are they evidence of mismanagement?
  6. Is it true that the superintendent has never taken ownership of any of these problems? Should the superintendent take responsibility for these?
  7. How do I determine whether Steve is right or the superintendent is right or whether the truth is somewhere in the middle?

My expectations for last night were low and realistic. I have no hope whatsoever that anything will change until there are new trustees. I am as sure of that as I am that the fake investigation into the pool mess will be just that – fake, with no real changes to anything about the process or accountability.

This is not a matter of personalities; of liking or not liking the superintendent. I don’t know him and can’t say one way or the other. No, this is strictly a matter of management.

If you need just one easy example of how far this administration has drifted, just note that neither the superintendent, nor any trustee has offered a formal public apology to the student-athletes on Estancia’s aquatic sports teams.

They won’t because they can’t – it’s a blind spot. It would mean inviting the coaches and athletes to the next school board club meeting – and not doing it in any other forum! – and saying, “I am sorry for the hardships you have had to endure because the pool was drained. Our intentions were good, but that doesn’t lessen your burden, I know. I just want you to know that we appreciate your patience and your hard work and know that when we are done, the school – and you – will be rewarded with an aquatics center that will make everyone proud and will make these tough times a distant memory.” 

Is that really so hard to say? It would not be hard for me and it would not be hard for anyone who understands what it means to provide true leadership.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD