There was a school board club meeting last night but you didn’t miss anything. With so many critical issues facing the trustees at this time, it was just business as usual:

  1. Lather
  2. Rubber stamp
  3. Repeat

The e-mails revealed as a result of the recent CPRA request have been on my mind since I read them a few days ago (They are in their entirety in the previous post). When I tried to boil them down to one result or one theme, it came down to this: Collectively, the current school board lacks a fundamental trait, one that is evident in every successful person I know.

The trait that these successful people have in common is that they are all very good listeners. I will come back to this in a moment.

I spoke last night. This is what I said:

“Mrs. Snell, a recent CPRA request revealed that in a January 18 e-mail to a taxpayer you wrote the following about Sandy Asper, a respected member of the Newport-Mesa community:

“QUOTE  The latest ‘Sandy’ posts….a joke…especially her cartoons. I believe she is losing it. UNQUOTE

“Mrs. Snell, I find this comical. You spent about 21 thousand dollars to get elected to a job that pays you about $450 a month and you claim that Sandy is losing it.

“Later in the same e-mail, you mention a few names, including mine, and called us “haters.”

“In one e-mail, you maligned a respected citizen and labeled several others. Mrs. Snell, if you were in high school you could be suspended for bullying.

“But you are not in high school, you are a member of the school board and none of your colleagues will give a thought to some sort of reprimand, despite the fact that your remarks are irresponsible and reckless, and that you have violated the code of conduct of the Board of Trustees.

“So, I just did it for them.

“Thank you.”

Before continuing, I want to make something very clear: Sandy Asper has one of the sharpest minds of anyone I know, and I know a lot of sharp minds. Asper is constantly focused on ideas, concepts, and solutions, unlike Snell, who would rather talk about people.

Asper doesn’t need me to come to her defense and as she reads this, she will probably bristle at my doing so. But I’m not writing this for her, I’m writing it for me – so I can tell Snell that not only is she out of line in sharing this thought with a taxpayer on the public record, she is wrong.

Stay, just a little bit longer

After I spoke, I sat down and waited for two other speakers to finish.  Laurie Smith spoke on school safety and Cynthia Blackwell spoke on high school voter registration.

I was later told that one of the school board club members said that they wished the speakers would stick around so they could hear the responses from the trustees.

I used to do that, in fact, it wasn’t all that long ago that I started leaving after the public comments. It has been a slow process: I used to stay through the entire meeting. Then I started to leave after the trustee comments – before the superintendent spoke because he rarely said anything substantive. Then I started leaving after the agenda was completed and now I leave after the public comments.

The process has been slow because I clung to the belief that I would witness some breakthrough; some moment of clarity that would tell me that beneath it all, the trustees really do get it.

But they don’t get it and I have no hope that the current make-up of this board ever will. That will take new trustees.

I no longer stick around because the concept of sitting in the audience listening to the trustees respond is precisely what is wrong with the process. The trustees could easily ask a speaker to stay at the podium to discuss something that is of interest to them – there is no rule against it. But they prefer to maintain tight control of the process and tell the speakers what they think with no further discussion.

I saw this at the almost-secret special meeting of March 2 – three times that morning – and this preference was confirmed last night. Consider:

  • Twice this year, I have told the trustees that the administration is not giving them all of the information they need to make the best decisions. That’s pretty big stuff. But not one of them has reached out to me for clarification or amplification. No trustee has said anything remotely close to, “Steve, I’m concerned about what you’re telling us. Can you give us any more information or insight?”
    (Need proof? In the previous post, you can read an e-mail from Trustee Karen Yelsey who told a taxpayer that the Estancia pool could not be refilled. Yelsey did not make this up on the fly, she wrote it in good faith based on information from a district staff member or a consultant on whom she relied for accurate information. I believe this to be the case. The pool was recently refilled.)
  • A few meetings ago, I told the trustees that I had received two fresh reports of rats on campuses. No trustee, and no member of the administration who was there that night bothered to ask me the locations of the rats so they could address the problem.
  • For years, teachers and parents complained about a faulty math program and the trustees did nothing. It was only after the hue and cry got so loud that they had to whack that mole back into its hole.
  • The community voted against the Collegiate Calendar, but the district is adopting it anyway.

These are just a few examples. There are many more.

The trustees don’t ask because they don’t care. If they did care, they’d ask or they would follow-up. That’s it, that’s the bottom line.

I am resigned to this fact. but it works both ways: If they don’t care what I have to say, I no longer care what they have to say.

And it’s quite alright to disagree. The problem arises when they want only to speak and not to have a conversation.

This matter of listening – listening because you want to or like to, not because you have to – is so fundamentally important that it is at the heart of what is wrong with the current panel of trustees.

Becoming a good listener can be learned. In fact, I’m still working on it. What I have found in the process is that listening leads to success. They are inseparable.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD