If you had to point to one event that proved why the Newport-Mesa community needs new school board members, it happened over a period of days starting last Thursday, May 10.

On that day, Trustee Vicki Snell posted a notice on her district Facebook page stating, “We have scheduled a Special Board Meeting Friday, May 14 at 10 am for the NMUSD Board to receive an overview of the Challenge Success School Program with questions and answers to follow.”

Shortly after reading this, I noticed Snell’s blunder – yet another one – and wrote that May 14 is a Monday, not a Friday. The post was quickly corrected to read “Monday” and no acknowledgment of the source of the correction was given.

That’s the small point. The larger point is that the school board and the administration conspired to prevent the public from attending a meeting that was special only in that it was not part of a regular meeting. There was no urgency to this matter and no reason at all why it could not be included in the regularly scheduled meeting of May 22 – only eight days later.

Instead, the board and the administration conducted business as usual and gave taxpayers less than two working days’ notice.

The short notice is standard operating procedure. Twice last year, I attended one of these instant special meetings and asked them politely to start providing more notice. At one instant special meeting, Trustee Martha Fluor started a conversation about options for providing more notice.

Clearly, nothing has changed and I have stopped calling them on this insensitive scheduling because it is a waste of time. The current school board club will not change this habit.

But wait, there’s more!

The challenge is not just the short notice, it is the unbelievably huge disconnect between the school board club and the public. I expect the short notice. What I didn’t expect was a public declaration of the disappointment in the lack of attendance.

In the Daily Pilot of May 16 covering the meeting, reporter Priscilla Vega wrote, “Newport-Mesa trustee Karen Yelsey said she wished leaders of the district’s teachers union had attended the special meeting since some items, including a pending proposal to start the school year earlier, would be negotiated in the union’s contract.”

Ho, boy. Really? Is the trustee bubble so great that there is a complete failure to understand that most of the rest of us are working or otherwise committed to things and we cannot just shift gears and attend an instant special meeting with so little notice?

It is not just insensitivity to the community that drives this behavior, it is ingrained. The short notice for these instant special meetings has been going on for years because they like it that way. Contrary to what the school board club may say, they really don’t want anyone attending these instant special meetings. If they did, they would provide more notice. It really is that simple.

So it’s rather amusing to read how the district places a major scheduling hurdle in front of the union, then read Yelsey’s disappointment over the union’s lack of attendance.

Vega also wrote, “Britt Dowdy, president of the Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers, said Monday that he didn’t know there was a meeting.”

And there you have it. Nothing has changed and nothing will change until new trustees are elected.

Switching gears

Work commitments have pulled me away from blog activity, but that’s not the only reason why the posts have slowed. A few weeks ago, I came to the realization that speaking to the board and informing them of certain facts or opinions was a complete waste of time.

Sometimes, I would appear at these instant special meetings or speak on something just to let the school board club know that there is at least one person in Newport-Mesa who can see behind the curtain.

That, too, was a waste of time. They do not care whether I attend a meeting or whether I have anything of substance to say when I speak. That is apparent in the aforementioned scheduling discussion with Fluor and also in some remarks I made to the school board club at a regular meeting a few months ago.

Back then, long before it became big news, I told the school board club that I had recently received two reports of rats on campuses. No one – neither a trustee nor a member of the administration – bothered to ask me which campuses so they could address the problem. No one stopped to consider why Steve Smith was getting these reports instead of the school administrators or district personnel.

Why didn’t they ask or consider the process? Because they don’t care. If they did care, they would have asked. But they did not ask and their indifference was rewarded with rat problems at Newport Harbor so bad that students and teachers walked out and the infestation made the regional news.

And yes, there are still rats on that other campus but no one will ask me which one.

What to do

Now, it’s my turn for indifference. I will no longer beat my head against the wall trying to effect change within the current school board club. Instead, the bulk of my energy will be spent promoting the candidate or candidates who will be running against the incumbents. I will write, walk precincts, hold meetings, and do whatever else it takes to elect people who are not satisfied with the status quo and who will restore the concept of respect with regard to those of us who live here and are tired of the shabby treatment of so many groups of people here, including teachers and classifieds.

So if I do not attend many more school board club meetings or write about yet another blunder, or two or three, it is not because I do not care, it is because my energy is better spent making a difference where it counts. It is an investment in the future that is meant to benefit students.

There are four school board seats up for grabs this November. They are currently held by:

Walt Davenport – Represents the area most in need of a revolution. Anemic academic performance has gone on far too long. Teachers need far more support than they are receiving. Davenport rarely speaks at meetings and has offered no solutions to raising academic performance.

Charlene Metoyer – Has brought nothing to the party and the only difference between Davenport and Metoyer is that Metoyer will speak up at meetings to let us know which school plays she has seen and which ribbon-cuttings she has attended.

Judy Franco – Has declared she is not running again. Be mindful of a hand-picked candidate who will embrace the status quo.

Karen Yelsey – Despite declaring 12 years ago that 12 years is enough for a trustee, my guess is that she will run anyway. But if there is any proof that we need to elect someone more sensitive to the community, it is in the Daily Pilot quote about her disappointment at the union leadership’s failure to attend the instant special meeting. Oh, and when she first ran in 2006, she also decried the board’s rubber stamping…

It has been said countless times that people are afraid of change. I’ve never believed that. I don’t think people are afraid of change, they are afraid of the uncertainty that change represents. The school board club needs change and if that comes with uncertainty over the future, so be it.

Everyone in this district deserves that type of change.

Steve Smith

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