At 3 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 15, the N-MUSD held a meeting for new trustee candidates to come and learn about trustee responsibilities, how the district works (or doesn’t), chain of command, etc.

This is the same meeting I attended as a candidate four years ago.

This time around, little has changed. The format and content against which I railed is the same, except for new names that had to be inserted where appropriate. Candidates were given information – lots of it – not sent to them digitally or provided on a flash drive, but the old-fashioned way: Pages and pages of paper… At least 30 per candidate.

(If the district wants to support its claims of trying to get every student prepared for the “21st Century economy” [sic] perhaps they should lead by example. Reducing the amount of paper is a good start.)

That goes for organization and notification, too.

There are seven new faces running for the four open seats. Of the seven, only four attended the meeting. For a meeting that drags in top-level administrators, the available trustees, and uses precious staff time to prepare the room and the materials, a poor attempt was made to secure attendance by all of the candidates.

Let’s start with the date. August 17 was the deadline to declare one’s candidacy for a school board seat in areas in which the incumbent had not filed by August 10. Of the seven new candidates, four of them were not officially qualified to run until Aug. 11. Two of them were not qualified until Aug. 15.

Two of the candidates who attended the Aug. 15 meeting were not declared by the Orange County Registrar of Voters to be official candidates until a few minutes after 4 p.m., which means that when the meeting started, they had no more of a right to be there than did I. Which brings me to a side note…

I e-mailed the district office to get the names of the attendees. Instead of simply telling me, I was told, “It was not a public meeting, it was optional, and attendance was not taken.”  The name of the person who sent it is not important as I am sure he or she was only writing what was dictated.

There are a couple of issues here. One is that there is no record of attendance and worse, no memory. All of those district bigwigs, staff time to organize the room and materials, people carving out time from their busy schedules and no one from the district can name the four people who were there?

That response is a good example of the knee-jerk reaction to many such inquiries: Don’t reveal the information. Dig in and hope it just goes away. That was an expensive meeting and there were no minutes taken or attendance recorded? This is yet another example of the low bar that has been set for administrative performance standards.

But as my kids have heard me say (probably) too many times, there is a workaround for everything. In this case, learning who attended was easy.

The other issue is that this was declared a non-public meeting. But the fact remains that when the meeting started, two of the four candidate attendees were not official candidates.

Why this, why now?

This meeting is a lot of district talking heads. Questions are encouraged, of course, but without time to thoroughly digest information, this old saying applies: “You don’t know what you don’t know,” which means that substantive questions are difficult at this time due to the amount of information that is being presented.

Why the rush? This meeting could have and should have been scheduled after Friday, Aug. 17. If it was so important that it required the attendance of all the big shots, a room prepared, and materials presented, the invitation should have been sent out with multiple day and time options – after Aug. 17 – and a ranking of choices for each, as in first choice, second, etc. That is a proven way to narrow the date and time down to what works for the greatest number of people.

It could even have been delivered via Skype or in a webinar format that allows questions via chat. You’ve probably attended either or both of them. (OBTW, attorneys can attend meetings via those formats, too saving the district the lawyer’s “travel time” expense.)

Why the meeting was held before the official close of candidate filings is a mystery.

Why they wasted reams of paper instead of sending the information digitally is a mystery.

Why the attendees were not given the remote attendance option is a mystery.

Eh, no it’s not… It’s just business as usual on Bear St.

Steve Smith