The delay in posts is not due to a lack of activity over on Bear St. but to the holidays. But after experimenting with some baking concepts and having settled on at least a couple of new desserts in the process, it’s time to get back to work.
Speaking of the process (You remember the process, don’t you? That’s the thing the school board club trots out when it suits them, and avoids when it doesn’t), today is the day when two new trustees are sworn in. At tonight’s meeting, there will be a good chunk of time electing new officers and representatives. It’s the local equivalent of musical chairs: For the officers, everyone moves down a seat. For the representatives to the various boards, committees, and commissions, well, those have probably been determined so expect no debate or conflicting nominations as they breeze through the appointments.
Tonight will mark the first school board meeting in 38 years without Judy Franco. That’s a long time – a commitment that most of us would decline if we were told in advance that it would be nearly 40 years before we got our lives back.
But Franco kept coming back every four years and helped the district achieve a status that it has lost over the past six years and is struggling to recapture. (More on that in a moment).
For her efforts, Franco gets a patio in her name and a proclamation. Not good enough, not even close.
The two new trustees are Michelle Barto and Ashley Anderson. Both are intelligent, hard-working, and dedicated and represent a new generation of board members.
My expectations for them are low, not because I believe they are not capable – they are – but because it would be unfair to expect too much too soon. There is no list of demands – that is unrealistic – but I do have some hopes. Here is my short list:
More transparency – I hope that Barto and Anderson can help the board understand that while truth sets us free, so does transparency. When you reveal everything that is not information protected by law, you never have to worry about tripping over yourself trying to explain what happened, when, and why. It’s a refreshing exercise, actually, and the board may realize just how much after trying it for just a short period. The key to transparency is simple: Reveal it before you are asked or before it is discovered.
More accountability – Over the past six years, the residents of Newport-Mesa have suffered from a record-breaking number of blunders and mismanagement that have cost millions of dollars and ruined the credibility and performance of this once-proud school district. In any organization, this many problems would signal to the decision-makers that something is wrong. But this is the N-MUSD and common rules do not apply. There are problems in the management of the N-MUSD – big problems. But week after week, month after month, we see the same people operating under the same rules. Estancia High had the trifecta of incompetence, suffering from the stink, the pool, and the poles, but there was no sincere apology for any of these and no update on what has been done since to prevent such bad decision-making from reoccurring.
More fiscal responsibility – One of the benefits of being a Basic Aid school district is that we are not subject to the prevailing political winds of Sacramento and we have a more steady and predictable revenue stream, the ups and downs of property values notwithstanding. The downside is that because it is steadier and less volatile, there is a tendency to spend without enough careful consideration. We need board members who understand where that money comes from and who spend is accordingly, which means spending it more judiciously than it has been spent over the years.
More insight – Time and again, we have seen programs presented to the board by contractors or staff members, only to receive the equivalent of seven bobbling heads in response. I mentioned, for example, the Raptor security system that was presented a few weeks ago. Let’s assume for the moment that all schools really need a program that screens visitors for registered sex offenders or for child custody restrictions. When the program was presented, however, there was not a single question about the best practices of the program. No one asked where it was being used or what problems that district had encountered. No one took a deep dive into the issues over screening everyone for, say, a school play or a basketball game. Nothing. Every program that is being presented should have a section on best practices. It should be as automatic as the sunrise and the superintendent should insist that his people include it so the board does not have to ask for it. But he doesn’t because he is not held accountable, because he does not embrace transparency, he doesn’t understand the fundamentals of fiscal responsibility, and because, when all is said and done, he does not have sufficient respect for the hard-working taxpayers who cover his inflated compensation, including those tax-sheltered annuities the board is so fond of handing out.
More respect – A few days ago, I learned that current board president Vicki Snell had declared at the State of the Schools breakfast that trustee Karen Yelsey was her mentor. That was an “Aha!” moment, which clarified the reasons for Snell’s persistent rudeness from the dais. The board’s hypocrisy over public input, for example, has been a steady theme on these pages. The board may profess to want public input, but when they show up to give it, many of them are treated as nuisances; as something to tolerate before getting on with the rubber stamping. Oh, and scheduling those secret special meetings just a hair before the legal notification deadline is disrespectful, too.
So that’s my short list. Not too much to ask, eh?
Last month, I e-mailed Trustee Charlene Metoyer asking her to justify the use of district personnel in a last-minute campaign mailer. No reply. So, I sent it a second time. No reply. And a third time. No reply.
This morning, I gave it a fourth try. Here it is:
My fourth request. Please explain the use of district personnel in your campaign mailer, which is contrary to district policy as described below by the superintendent.
The easy thing for Metoyer to do would have been to reply. Say something – anything – even if it’s the equivalent of no comment.
Perhaps Metoyer believes, as does Snell, that it is OK to use district people in a campaign mailer because most people don’t know who they are.
Once we were proud
From EdSource: “On Dec. 6, 2018, the California Department of Education updated the
official California School Dashboard with the latest data for schools and districts. The dashboard shows progress, or lack of it, on multiple measures. This database shows measures of achievement on six measures, in color codes selected by the state.”
The measures covered include:
Chronic Absenteeism: Proportion of students who miss 10 percent or more of the school year –18 or more days (high school grades excluded).
College/Career Readiness Indicator: Proportion of students designated Prepared, Approaching Prepared or Not Prepared for post-graduation based on grades, test scores and academic and career technical education courses completed.
Suspension Rates: Based on a combination of current suspension rates and changes in those rates over time.
English Language Arts Performance: Student performance in Grades 3-8 on the English Language Arts Smarter Balanced tests administered in the current year, combined with whether scores improved, declined or stayed the same compared to the previous year.
Math Performance: Student performance in Grades 3-8 on the math Smarter Balanced tests in the current year combined with whether scores improved, declined or stayed the same compared to the previous year.
High School Graduation Rate: Four-year cohort rates, combining current graduation rate along with whether rates have changed over the previous year.
Here is the chart of color codes:
Pretty simple: Blue good, red bad. Yellow: Eh.
The problem I have is with the interpretation of the test scores. At Lincoln El, for example, math and English performances are rated “green,” yet 39% of the students at the school failed to meet the state standards for math and 33% failed to meet the standards for English. In my book that’s not green-worthy.
Here’s the chart for Newport Harbor High (asterisk means no data available):
And here’s the data for CdM and Costa Mesa High Schools:
“Meh” is about the best I can muster. It wasn’t always like this. We used to be the envy of districts up and down the state. Now, we are more known for making the evening news about rats on campuses, tainted instruments, grade hacking, a prom draft, or some other scandal. Oh, and we’re also a go-to district for big administrative salaries with no accountability.
And so it begins…
To Barto and Anderson: Thank you for stepping up to this responsibility. I wish you well.