They are billed as meetings of the N-MUSD board of education but they are more akin to coffee klatches. Except when teachers show up.

That’s when, all of a sudden, the school board club members become attentive and show these concerned looks on their faces and promise to take everything under advisement and blah, blah, blah.

They are fake meetings, held only to satisfy legal or other requirements and to provide an opportunity for each school board club member to tell the others at the end of the meeting about the school plays they attended, the ribbons they cut, and how marvelous everything is.

Unless teachers show up en masse.

Last night teachers showed up to express concern about campus safety and to demand that more be done – and faster – about protecting themselves and their students from potential outside threats. At one point, many of the teachers held up signs stating how many other teachers they represent as part of their union roles. This was meant to tell the school board club that there is a lot of clout in the room. It looked like this:

Teacher signs

One victory at last night’s fake meeting was the opportunity to witness school board club president [sic] Vicki Snell’s poor management of the Community Input portion of the show. Here’s how that went…

Teachers were not at the fake meeting because they had nothing else to do, they were there because the district’s campus safety plans – such as they are – are moving at a snail’s pace. While the school board club seems to have no trouble expediting raises and bonuses for the superintendent, they cannot get campus safety in gear.

One community input speaker went over the allotted three minutes, at precisely which time Snell made the very bad decision to cut her off completely. Interrupting her, Snell said something to the effect that there were a lot of people who wanted to speak and it was not fair to them to allow anyone to get extra time. She also referenced the 20-minute rule,  aka BB 9323, which states that, ” …there is a maximum of 20 minutes per topic.”

Having run many meetings, including meetings for the city of Costa Mesa, I am sympathetic to Snell’s point. No one should go over three minutes, even when the room is empty, unless of course they are granted extra time, which is what Snell should have done in that environment.

Instead, she cut off the speaker, who then started to demand more time, which Snell refused to do. There was some heated back-and-forth, then Snell ordered the security guard to remove the speaker from the podium. Here’s what that looked like:

 

Guard

I am sorry for the fuzzy image, but I am not an experienced photographer. Similarly, those people last night were not experienced speakers and Snell should have handled the situation with a scalpel instead of a sledgehammer, particularly in front of a hostile crowd.

At the moment the speaker went over the limit, Snell should have said, simply, “You have an additional 10 seconds (or 15 or 20 or whatever) to finish your comments.” That is the respectful thing to do and it does not impact the total amount of time because only a small percentage of the speakers go over three minutes.

But it’s not just what we say, it is also how we say it. In fact, how we say something is often more impactful than what we say. The folks at Disney understand this, and according to their Cast Member training, 55% of successful communication is based not on what we say, but how we say it. Snell addressed the speaker tersely, which served only to cause more resistance to her command.

In the end, the amount of time Snell spent trying to chase the speaker from the podium was probably equal to or greater than the time this person needed to wrap up.

There are other, more effective ways to get a speaker to stand down, but Snell either does not know them or does not care to use them. Her command to the speakers who ran over was rude and inappropriate. But that’s not the first time she has handled them that way.

The ridiculous part of this whole mess is that it was this same school board club that voted to implement the 20-minute rule and at any time during the Community Input section, a club member could have made a motion to extend the 20 minutes to 30 or 45.

But they did not. Why? Because, as I have written countless times and supported the position with concrete examples, they are not really interested in community input, despite any protestations to the contrary.

They have a Community Input section on the agenda because they have to, not because they want to.

The value in the exchanges last night was that the members of the public got to see Snell’s unwieldy wielding of presidential power.

Talking it up

In an effort to highlight the need for a greater discussion of teen suicide prevention, I told the board that not only are they not doing enough, their silence may be harmful. I said:

“One week ago, the Orange County Register ran the second in a series of articles about teen suicide. In this one, there are pictures of Patrick Turner, quotes from his family, and quotes from his letters, which are now widely available online.

“The author of the series, David Whiting, wrote, “Patrick’s mother wishes her son talked about what was bothering him, that he sought help. But he didn’t and now he never can.” It is possible that stigma is one reason why Patrick Turner did not talk about his troubles.

“The scolding of a concerned parent at the March 2nd board meeting and the district’s apparent desire to sweep Patrick Turner’s suicide under the rug is undermining the efforts of Student Services and perpetuating the air of stigma attached to counseling.

“This is not the prom draft. It is not the premature draining of a swimming pool, and it is not a falsified gold ribbon application.

“By not encouraging an open and frank discussion of this challenge, you have told parents and students in the district that mental health issues are not something to be discussed publicly; that silence is the best approach.

“There are troubled teens who are depending on your leadership to help reduce the stigma of seeking help. The failure to clearly and directly address teen suicide may be doing tremendous damage to the approximately 2200 district students who are estimated to be candidates for mental health counseling, but who are now receiving more messaging that, to them, is the equivalent of “Get over it.”

“And that is the real shame here.”

That last line was directed at Snell, who stormed out of the boardroom on March 2 and said to one member of the public, a parent of N-MUSD kids, then to the rest of us, “You should be ashamed of yourself. All of you.”

Also on March 2, club member Karen Yelsey told that same parent from the dais, ““I feel really strongly about this because I know that family – I know what’s going on – and unless that family has told you to speak on their behalf or on their child’s behalf, please don’t do that again.”

Even if the Register had not written about Turner, I would have mentioned him again, despite Yelsey’s request. I did it last night, not because the Register let the cat out of the bag, but because I believe that is what Turner would want us to do.

One of Turner’s letters was addressed,  “To my family, friends and whoever else reads this.” In the letter, he precisely described the state-of-mind of many high school students, and also described larger societal problems. I do not believe he wrote that letter to have it remain a forbidden topic. I believe that letter was a plea to do something; to take some action to either change the status quo or to do more to help kids get the counseling they need.

But as I wrote, the school board club will have none of that. Out of the many meaningful things they can and already should have done to respond to Turner’s plea, they have done nothing.

This does not include the excellent work of the district’s Student Services dept. They are doing so much good work and would do so much more, provided the resources. This is about the lack of clear and direct communication from the superintendent and the school board club. It is about, as I wrote, the desire to treat this as another storm to ride out. In doing so, students and parents are receiving mixed messages that may prevent some from seeking help.

Welcome to the party

One of the highlights of last night’s fake meeting was the appearance of another side of Trustee Charlene Metoyer. In an ineloquent but highly effective way, she expressed the frustration felt by the teachers in the audience who felt that there is not enough progress being made to protect our campuses. Last night, we got a sample of the board member we thought we voted for a few years ago.

Among other things, Metoyer requested a safety update at each subsequent board meeting, then turned to the superintendent to ask what needed to be done to make it happen.

As usual, the superintendent replied with bureaucratic nonsense, then handed off the topic to a member of the cabinet to finish up whatever it was he was trying to say. During this discussion, I heard bureaucratic bingo phrases such as, “processes and procedures,” “best practices,” and “work together to…”

So what became of Metoyer’s update request? The superintendent said he would schedule a meeting to discuss it. In other words, nothing.

Once the public comments portion of the show was over, the club moved to the rubber stamping portion of the show, also known as the Consent Calendar, at which time I left, along with most of the people who showed up.

So, what will happen as a result of last night’s meeting? If it is true that past behavior is the best predictor of future performance, expect little. I’m guessing that the district will hold a few of those meaningless community input meetings and pretend that they care about all this when what they really want is to be left alone so they can go about their business without pesky interruptions from the public.

Tennis, anyone?

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD

P.S. If these school board club actions or inactions trouble you, remember that there is an effective solution: Vote for four new trustees in November. Seats up for grabs are Franco, Metoyer, Davenport, and Yelsey.

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