Regular readers of this blog know that if there are significant lapses between posts, it is almost always because I have been working and unable to give this blog the attention it deserves.

I’m still busy – very busy – which is always a sign of a healthier economy. But life isn’t just about work and recent events have caused me to take a timeout.

A common sentiment in this space is the failure of the N-MUSD trustees to connect the dots. Each blunder, each bad decision, is treated only as a nuisance; a brush fire that must be extinguished before it becomes an inferno.

They do this primarily for two reasons. The first is that, collectively, they do not have, or have lost, the ability to see how events interact. Any reasonable observer would look at the tremendous mismanagement of the district over the past five years and come to the conclusion that leadership is failing. The list of waste and mistakes includes but is not limited to:

  • Grade hacking
  • Prom draft
  • Swun Math
  • Area lawsuit
  • Boss/Huntington lawsuit
  • Rats
  • Estancia pool
  • Estancia poles
  • Estancia stink
  • Caldecott termination
  • Skyrocketing legal fees
  • Tainted musical instruments
  • Campus safety delays
  • CdM sports complex delays
  • Poor Smarter Balanced scores

But to the trustees, there is no connection between the prom draft and the rats in the classrooms at Newport Harbor High. The Mariners Gold Ribbon scandal and the premature draining of the pool at Estancia High did not happen in a vacuum, they are closely related.

When taken as a whole, the performance of the trustees and the administration they have allowed to run the district with little oversight is horrendous. That, however, did not prevent the trustees from awarding the superintendent a bonus of $34,450 last December, to purchase an annuity of his choosing, and to rate his performance “exceptional.” And it did not prevent them from recently handing out raises to members of the administration who are already getting enough compensation – too much, in fact, when judged by their performance.

And that’s one of the issues here: The administrators are not judged by their performance, they are judged by how well they don’t challenge the status quo. Toe the line, pal, and there is money to be made. There is a person in the administration who is responsible for wrecking the aquatics program at Estancia by draining the pool. Oh, he was not the one who pulled the plug, but the pool is in his bailiwick, yet, he just got more tax dollars and an “attaboy.”

The second reason for segmenting all of these blunders is that this is the way they have always done it and it has always worked. The trustee with the least experience is Charlene Metoyer, who was elected in 2014. Next comes current president Vicki Snell, who was appointed in 2012. After that, we’re off and running: Walt Davenport… 8 years. Karen Yelsey… 12 years. Dana Black… 22 years. Martha Fluor… 27 years. Judy Franco… elected in 1980, the same year Ronald Reagan became president.

The brush fire approach is decades old and it works. It works so well that trustees have counted on this approach to keep the public mollified and to maintain the status quo.

Connecting the Dots

Across the country, teachers are speaking up. In Colorado, Georgia, Arizona, Oklahoma, and Kentucky, teacher strikes have occurred or are planned. In North Carolina on May 16, teachers are striking for one day.

An op-ed piece in Newsweek listed five reasons for the flurry of teacher activism, the first being a demand for more money. That told me that the writer did not fully understand the nature of the problem.

Last week, students and a few teachers at Newport Harbor High staged brief walkouts to protest the presence of rats in classrooms. It may seem to the casual observer that they are protesting the presence of rats, but the rats are merely a symptom – just as the national teacher strikes are a symptom.

The root problem is a lack of respect for teachers and the teaching profession. The problem is not unique to Newport-Mesa, it is a problem everywhere.

I’ve written it so many times: Teachers do not get into the profession to get rich, or even to get way ahead. They teach because they like to and want to. In 2018, however, they have had enough. They are tired of seeing the obscene amounts of money being thrown at administrators who have little or no accountability and they are tired of conditions that distract them from doing what they came to do. In Newport-Mesa, that means, among other things, teaching in hot classrooms, and putting up with rats despite repeated complaints (The rats at Newport Harbor were supposed to have been conquered during the holiday break in 2016).

The United States is experiencing a new type of teacher – younger people who will not stand for the crumbs their predecessors accepted, the hollow platitudes about how much they are appreciated, and the unspoken rule that teachers should avoid controversial topics.

To them, I say, “Welcome to the fight.”

Steve Smith