Last night at the Bear St. HQ, there was a meeting of the Orange County Committee on School District Organization, which assembled to vote on whether to approve Area Map G which creates boundaries for the new Area representation elections starting in November.

The agenda called for the the committee to receive a presentation by the N-MUSD in support of Map G, followed by public comments and committee questions.

I was one of eight community members who spoke. This is what I said:

I am a 31-year resident of Costa Mesa.

  • I attend most school board meetings
  • I ran for a school board seat in 2014
  • I was twice elected to the Site Council at a Westside CM school
  • I was an active member of the PTA in every school my kids attended 
  • I was an active booster for two Estancia High School sports teams while my son was a student there
  • I regularly conduct research into innovations in education
  • I was a resident of Costa Mesa’s Westside for 17 years
  • For 15 years, I was a columnist for the Daily Pilot newspaper and wrote extensively on district issues
  • I Currently write a blog featuring district news and opinions 

I’m providing you with these highlights to let you know that I am not part of what the superintendent referred to at the last board meeting as part of the  “underinformed member of the public.”

To the contrary, sometimes I wish I didn’t know all that I do.

If we are honest and clear, we will acknowledge that the initial impetus for this meeting and this process is because the Newport-Mesa Unified School District does not have and has never had a Latino trustee, despite the fact that Costa Mesa’s Latino population stands at about one-third and has been at the level for many years. And as a result, the district was sued to come into compliance with the CVRA.

You heard tonight about the district’s outreach effort, how they held five community meetings, ran ads in a Spanish language newspaper, etc.

What they did not tell you is that despite that fact that this is all about Costa Mesa’s Westside representation, only one of the five meetings was held there.

They did not tell you that the number of Americans who read newspapers has declined dramatically and that includes the residents of Costa Mesa’s Westside. Newspapers are not an effective channel for this type of campaign.

They did not tell you that the Area representative, Walt Davenport, was not at the Westside meeting and his only contribution to this process was to vote on a map choice.

They did not tell you that the map selection committee members were handpicked by the superintendent.

Most important, they did not tell you that despite what they believe was a sufficient outreach effort to the community, the response was poor.

If no reason other than input from the Latino community on this decision is woefully inadequate, Map G should not be approved.

Thank you.

After the district presentation, the public comments, and the rebuttals, it was time for the committee to speak. The first committee member (I’m leaving out names because it’s irrelevant) said that she was “heartbroken” at the “controversy” that was presented. That was a small victory and more on that in a few paragraphs.

There were more questions and comments from the committee and the district representatives scrambled to provide answers. Nine district representatives answered committee queries. Everyone in the room witnessed a disorganized, confused assembly of district representatives who clumsily passed the speaking baton back and forth and did not seem to understand some of the simple questions that were being asked. The superintendent gave an irrelevant answer to one question and had to answer it again.

One speaker included extensive information that was not requested and when on for so long that I came very close to muttering, “Wrap it up.”

The only person who managed to provide succinct, coherent responses was the district’s attorney.

After a couple of committee member questions, it became clear to me that they were going to vote in favor of the map. The thrust of my comments – that the district’s feeble attempt at community outreach is enough to deny this map approval – was addressed by one committee member who stated, long story short, that getting people to attend these types of meetings is a challenge everywhere.

If that is true, and I believe it is, then perhaps someone should say, “What we’re doing isn’t working and we need to try something else.”

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way in this or any other establishment. The status quo rules because there is no incentive to change it. This, too, is an informed opinion: In my career, I have led or assisted dozens of campaigns to attract people to events. Each time, it was an opportunity to improve our pitch and if an effort failed, we NEVER repeated it. Why? In part, because I was in charge of generating business, and if there were too many failures, I’d lose my job.

Now for that follow-up I mentioned a few paragraphs ago… Merely switching to area representation is victory enough and Map B approval would have just been icing on the cake. But the unanticipated victory last night was watching a group of experienced education executives -the committee – see for themselves how far this once proud district has fallen. At at time when the superintendent, the board, and the other representatives should have been at the top of their game, they represented themselves and their case like amateurs.

It was not news to the community members who were present last night, and it would not be news to the growing number of people in Newport-Mesa who are becoming aware of the poor academic performance (50% of all N-MUSD students failed to meet 2017 math standards), the lack of accountability ( Ex: No apology from anyone for draining the Estancia pool and wrecking the aquatics program and wasting $104,000 to refill it.), and the string of scandals and mismanagement including the EHS pool, EHS stink, rats in schools, Mariners Gold Ribbon application, the Boss/Huntington lawsuit alleging that, “… the school district and superintendent, created a workplace culture of fear and intimidation that compelled them to leave their jobs after the board of education failed to investigate their claims.” (LA Times 1/29/16), grade hacking, the prom draft debacle, skyrocketing legal fees, Swun math, no archived videos, and more.

But now, the cat is out of the bag.

In a strange twist, last night’s debate was a battle after a war had already been won. That war, area representation, was won months ago.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD