Old-timers like me will remember that headline as a joke used by the Johnny Carson character Art Fern to describe a place on the map where the freeway splits.

Johnny Carson as Art Fern

(Younger readers are thinking, “Johnny who???”)

There is a school board meeting tonight at 6:00. The address is 2985 Bear St. in Costa Mesa. The agenda for this meeting was posted last Friday at 1:56 p.m., not long before the legal deadline. But that’s typical. The “Board Meeting Brief,” which is supposed to give folks the key topics to be discussed, was posted yesterday.

That’s business as usual and not the focus of this post. I’m merely pointing out the late notices as an ongoing sign of this administration’s contempt for those members of the community who wish to become involved in district affairs. I’ve mentioned this disrespect to the board twice at public hearings. At one of those meetings, there was even some talk on some moves to provide more notice, but it was just that: Talk.

There are a few important items on the agenda tonight. And though it is listed in the Board Meeting Brief, the superintendent’s Character Trait Award Nominees isn’t one of them.

Don’t get me wrong: The kids are great and I’m happy they are being recognized. But for this super to be handing out awards recognizing “exceptional character leadership traits,” well…

The elephant in the room

The hottest topic in the district is not on the agenda and is probably set for the June 25 meeting.

Between now and then, the trustees must decide whether or how to amend the contract of the current super.  If future behavior is based on past performance, it’s safe to state that each trustee has already made up her mind.

Maybe. Maybe not.

It’s important this time around because next year, three trustees are up for re-election and they will have to explain to voters why they chose to add a year to the super’s contract and (presumably) give him yet another raise when, for example, more district kids failed to meet the 2018 state standard for math than in 2015.

The super owns that one.

The super’s contract amendment – a rubber-stamped item every year in memory except for 2011 when Jeff Hubbard was indicted – is not just about academic performance. The district has never been as poorly managed as it has been over the past few years, which has resulted in a lot of wa$te and in low morale among teachers.

Almost a year ago, I published “The List,” which over time has become the most referenced post of the nearly 800 I have written. Rather than provide a link, I am pasting it below. The List needs more updating than I have done this morning (I need to get to work), but there is more than enough here to help new readers understand why the trustees should not add another year to the super’s contract.

I will be at the meeting tonight and I hope you will, too.

Here’s the list:


  • CdM Cheating Scandal – In the 2012-13 school year, 29-yearold tutor Timothy Lai broke into the school – through an unlocked door – and installed a keystroke-logging device on a teacher’s computer and altered grades for some students. He got a year in jail and a few students involved were expelled. The N-MUSD administrator in charge of discipline at that time was Jane Garland, who has since called the district’s handling of the case “a total farce.” No students were charged with any crimes.
  • Swun Math – A faulty math program. Years of complaints by teachers, parents, and students ignored by the district. Evidence that staff knew the program was bad but did nothing. Only after an intense campaign led by Newport Beach parent Erica Roberts did the district finally change math programs. For her efforts, Roberts did not receive a single “Thank you for bringing this to our attention” by any trustee
  • Adams Elementary Fence – Parents were told of a fencing plan that had been approved by a committee that included residents, but another fencing layout was implemented instead. When asked at a meeting why, the district representative said, “We changed our minds.”
  • Adams Elementary attendance – Parents in Mesa Verde still sending their kids elsewhere. The trustees have had ample time to improve academic performance but have failed.
  • Poor academic Performance at Westside Costa Mesa Elementary and Middle Schools. No plan. Just leave teachers to deal with the mess they inherited. Oh, and don’t ever mention it in public! 2108 statewide math test results are worse than 2105. We’re going backward here.
  • Fields – Youth sports needed more of them, but the N-MUSD administration played Scrooge with access. The needle moved a bit only after it became news and outrage became intense.
  • John Caldecott Termination – A respected 10-year member of the administration questions some financial maneuvers. Three months later he is fired via text and e-mail. No explanation, no opportunity for him to have his day in court before the school board. That’s the story of John Caldecott
  • Bus Fees – After running millions of dollars in the red for years, the Bear St. brain trust decides that it’s time to raise bus fees to twice the price.
  • Boss/Huntington Lawsuit – Two respected former N-MUSD  officials sued the school district and superintendent, alleging that he created a workplace culture of fear and intimidation that compelled them to leave their jobs after the board of education failed to investigate their claims.
  • Banning Ranch Conflict of Interest – To help survey a piece of property adjacent to Banning Ranch, the district hired the same company doing the survey work for the Banning Ranch developers. When this was exposed, the district’s reply was, “There is no legal conflict of interest.”
  • Gold Ribbon Award Application – Superintendent signed the application, which teachers are claimed had 17 “discrepancies, mischaracterizations, and dishonest statements.” Principal was allowed to resign, superintendent got a raise and a bonus. Eh, not so fast: The superintendent signed the application but has never acknowledged any responsibility. Easier to just hold a fake meeting, issue a whitewash report and throw the principal under the bus. Here’s the application doc with the super’s signature:

The Mariners Gold Ribbon application co-signed by the superintendent, who has not acknowledged any responsibility.

  • Lack of Accountability – Few are held responsible for any mistakes, particularly the superintendent. For proof see the “Estancia Three” below
  • Paying the Deputy Supt. hundreds of thousands of dollars not to retire. Yes, they did that. The new money guy, Jeff Trader, is doing a fine job, which shows that there was some very bad decision-making here. And a lot of wasted money.
  • Dump Trump T-shirts – A student wore this shirt to school. Like a deer caught in headlights, the school experts did not know what to do. First they banned them, then they didn’t.
  • Air Conditioning Rain Leaks – Caused disruption of classes for hundreds of kids in 3 schools. Did the dist4rict ever receive compensation for the mess caused by the contractor? Doubt it. Instead, tax dollars paid to have this swept under the rug.
  • Stadiums – The development of not one, but two planned stadiums has been so badly mismanaged that it is hard to find a resident anywhere around Costa Mesa or CdM High Schools who is pleased with the progress.
  • Area Lawsuit – District had to have the threat of a lawsuit to comply with a provision in the California Voting Rights Act they should have implemented on their own years before
  • Rats on Campuses – Kids and teachers demonstrating a NHHS. In response, the district bars a teacher union official from the campus for one week. Yeah, that’ll get rid of the rats.
  • #1 of the “Estancia Three” – The Pool – A new pool was planned but it was drained prior to a firm construction agreement, wrecking the aquatics programs. Worse, the budget for the pool was about $3 million to low. District refills the pool (after Trustee Karen Yelsey said it couldn’t be refilled) after overwhelming complaints and at a cost of about $100,000.
  • #2 – Estancia Poles – In order to stop foul balls from hitting nearby expensive, newly-installed solar panels, the district installs 80′ poles with netting planned, but failed to inform adjacent homeowners of the blight that was going up in their backyards. More complaints from the community and the poles are taken down at tremendous taxpayer expense. Taxpayers were told the poles would be “re-purposed” within the district, but they were sold for scrap.
  • #3 – Estancia Stink – A mystery stink plaguing a section of the campus for approximately seven years. So bad that at least one teacher could not come to work due to ill-effects.
  • Skyrocketing Legal Fees – Fighting multiple public records requests and calling in attorneys at the drop of a hat has redirected funds meant for the education of our students into the pockets of lawyers. The district has lost every legal challenge to records requests, yet they continue to fight them, Forcing parents and community members to hire lawyers.
  • Tainted Musical Instruments – A serious ick. Can’t even describe how bad it is. Read it here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/education/wp/2017/10/01/semen-contaminated-flutes-might-have-been-given-to-children-california-school-officials-warn/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.0727dd7f0699
  • Campus Safety Delays – Once again, the community had to force the district to beef up security beyond just installing fences. And still, there is no discussion of a plan to help teachers and identify the most likely perpetrator. (Hint: The tallest fence in the world won’t keep this person off the campus.)
  • Poor Smarter Balanced Scores – No good news here. Check any school by visiting https://caaspp.cde.ca.gov/sb2017/Search
  • Fake Meetings – The trustees like to hold their “Special Meetings” on days and at times when it is difficult for members of the public to attend. Plus, the notice for most of the meetings is posted just hours before the legal deadline. Is there a pattern here? Yes, and I have spoken to the board about this multiple times to no avail. Why don’t they change? Because this is the way they want it, that’s why.
  • Fake Meetings #2- The trustees claim to want your input but their actions belie their words. After at least two high profile campaigns to get public input, the district took action that was not what taxpayers wanted.
  • Lack of Parent Participation and Communication– Too many times, parents of students in the district have been informed of changes after the fact, forcing them to demand change.
  • No Air Conditioning for Schools – It took community outrage to get the district to change the A/C timetable, despite the fact that voters approved almost half a billion dollars in bonds (which are really taxes) that should have been used for A/C a long time ago.
  • Facilities in Decrepit State –  Once again… close to half a billion dollars in bonds approved by voters, yet too many schools are in sorry states. Reports of horrible bathrooms at Ensign, classrooms with holes in the walls, and girls locker rooms in disrepair.  Rats. Where did all that bond money go?
  • Budget Oversight Committee“In accordance with section 4 above, the Oversight Committee shall meet at least quarterly to provide an Annual Report to the Board of Education.” But they haven’t. The committee has met for about half of the required time. Why? Because they don’t need no stinkin’ oversight, that’s why.

We’re at a spoon in the road.

6:00 tonight. If you come, make sure your phone is fully charged.

Steve Smith