Clayton Kershaw and Respect

Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw will make about $33 million dollars this year. He is an outstanding pitcher.

I love sports, but I adore baseball. Still, there is something wrong when we have an athlete making that much money while teachers make a fraction.

Clayton Kershaw can review and benefit from scouting reports because a teacher taught him how to read. He can add box scores and understand statistics because a teacher taught him math.

And he can sign autographs and make money that way because a teacher taught him to write.

For teachers, it’s not just the money. I am thinking of this because the World Series is on and because something happened today to make me recall all of the attempts by N-MUSD teachers to point out the failings of Swun Math and their attempts to get the program fixed or dumped.

Up and down the N-MUSD chain of command, their complaints were either ignored or insufficiently answered.

N-MUSD teachers are getting more money. That’s always a good thing, but it’s not enough. They continue to work in an environment in which speaking up is not encouraged and they are made to feel as though they are as interchangeable as light bulbs – if one burns out, just replace it.

They deserve the respect in the classroom that Clayton Kershaw gets on the mound.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD


Reading Between the Lines


The N-MUSD wants to radically alter the start and stop dates for its school year. The date changes are a shift to what is being called the “collegiate calendar,” as if attaching some reference to higher education is going to make it palatable.

According to the districts’s announcement, they are considering it “to more closely align with neighboring school districts and local colleges.”

The new calendar would have kids starting school “up to three weeks prior to the Labor Day holiday and end prior to the winter break.”

Oh, and they want your input, too. More on that in a moment.

Aligning the district is not enough of a reason to make this dramatic shift in schedules. The primary and perhaps only reason to make the change is if there is solid evidence that this new calendar has improved academic performance in similar schools or districts.

That’s it. Every other reason is for the benefit of adults, not kids.

But as long as we’re on the subject, there is a change option in the schedule that has years of proven benefits to students and which could and should be implemented here. (NOTE: It was one of the many recommendations I made during my 2014 campaign for seat on the school board. My opponent, Vicki Snell, made no recommendations.)

That change would adjusting the start of the school day to accommodate the body clocks of kids, which is different from adults. It would mean starting the school day later. As I mentioned, there is ample reputable evidence that this has a positive effect not only on academic performance, but on improved classroom behavior as well.

But wait, there’s more!

A recent study by the RAND Corporation showed that starting the school day later could contribute up to around $83 billion to the U.S. economy over a decade span.

Here’s a link to an article by the American Psychological Assoc.:

About that community input… Once again the district is reaching out to the community to get their thoughts on whether this is a good idea. In a situation like this, I wonder why we pay so many district bureaucrats so much money to figure out this stuff if the district is just going to ask the rest of us what to do.

You can read about the schedule here:

OBTW, the announcement reaches out to the “school community,” whatever that is. Not the “community,” the “school community.”

Prediction: Just as they were with the Area maps, selecting principals, and more, these meetings are all for show. The district has already decided to change the calendar and they are going through the motions to make it look like they care.

If you go, insist on having the district provide reliable evidence that the calendar change is likely to improve academic performance, not in Pigsknuckle, AR, but in a similar district.

But even if you go and even if they can’t give you this evidence, and even if the “school community” objects, the calendar will be changed.

Wait for it.

Steve Smith
N-MUSD Taxpayer

Channeling Vinny

One of the greatest moments in Los Angeles Dodgers history occurred on October 15, 1988 when pinch-hitter Kirk Gibson hit a two-run walk-off home run to win game one of the World Series. Gibson was suffering from severe pain in both legs that was so bad he did not even walk out for the introductions prior to the start of the game.

Gibson’s at-bat is even considered by many fans to be one of the greatest at-bats in MLB history.

You don’t have to  be a baseball fan to appreciate the moment, so here it is:


What is memorable about this clip is Vin Scully’s call. For almost a minute and a half after he declared it a home run, Scully said nothing.

This is a roundabout way of introducing two videos sent to me by the unstoppable Sandy Asper. No comments from me as they speak for themselves:

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD

We’re working on it, you betcha!

The Bottom Line

Most readers are unaware of the details of the Swun Math program in the district, that is, how and why it got here, why it took years to dump, and why it is still hanging on by a thread.

Which leads me to this: The school board is not always given the information they need to make an informed decision. Their blind faith in the administration, in this case, has resulted in countless students, parents, and teachers suffering with this program for years.

That’s not a defense of the board – they should have been asking substantive questions but they did not. Why? Because they counted on the wrong people to tell them what they needed to know and because it is not in their DNA to question the actions or recommendations of the staff. Ultimately, though, the buck stops at their desks.

Which leads me to this: This morning, I thought seriously about reaching out to a particular board member to meet to offer some information that may make a difference in the decision-making process. But I have not and will not because it won’t matter. It just won’t matter.

Which leads me to this: I can write until doomsday about the district’s failings but it won’t matter. Nothing will change. The only way to end the cycle of this entrenched bureaucracy and effect meaningful change (greater transparency, accountability and fiscal responsibility) is to elect new people to the board next year. Not just anyone, but people who understand the core issues and who are not afraid to challenge the status quo.

Symptoms vs. Problems

Swun Math is a problem, but it is also a symptom of a greater problem, which is the failure of the school board and the administration to listen to the teacher-student-parent community.

Last Tuesday, it was again the failure of the school board to listen to the community – a committee hand-picked by the superintendent to deliver an area map recommendation – when they suggested a map different from the one that was chosen. So why form the map advisory committee and waste all that time? Because it was all for show.

This is for show, too: Last month, the district held another community input meeting. The announcement read: “The Newport-Mesa Unified School District is currently seeking input from the TeWinkle Middle School community regarding the qualities and attributes you would like to see in the next school principal.”

No one in the district reads these silly announcements, all they do is change the name of the school and post the notice. And what is so different about the “qualities and attributes” we’d like from school to school? Nothing. You could take the original community input from a similar meeting of ten years ago for another school and you’d find that what the community wanted then is what they want now.

Still, they go through the motions. Why? Because there is no real leadership, that’s why, there is only bureaucracy. Bureaucrats will do what they have always done until someone tells them to do it differently, but no one is telling them to do it differently. And no one is going to stick their neck out to recommend change or question anything because they know what happened to John Caldecott when he did that.

Another Recommendation!

A better community meeting would have been to get input on why academic performance at TeWinkle in 2017 is worse than it was in 2016. The Smarter Balanced percentage of all students who did not meet the standards in 2016 for English and math are 42% and 58%. This year, they are 59% and 69%. Big differences. But is there anything being done to change the trend? No. A new principal is not the answer. It may help, but ultimately, the person chosen will be someone who will be certain to avoid rocking the boat.

Perhaps instead of spending time on Facebook trying to discredit her critics, or at least one of them, Trustee Vicki Snell – in whose area TeWinkle is located – can spend the time organizing that TeWinkle academic performance meeting. Or, how about this: At the school board meeting next Tuesday, how about asking the highly-paid bureaucrats why TeWinkle is going backward?

The bottom line (once again): Nothing will change until there are new people on the board. There are four seats open next year. Thanks to the new area voting process, challengers have a far better chance. If you are interested in running, or know someone who is interested, please contact me – There are people, including me, who can help get you/them off to a good start.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-USD



It’s My Fault

A few days ago, I addressed Trustee Vicki Snell in this blog because she wrote some Facebook comments about my consistent criticism of the district’s fiscal irresponsibility and lack of transparency and accountability.

Among other ramblings, she stated my lack of involvement (She also mentioned my participation in a city committee that has nothing to do with schools and I’m not sure why it was relevant, but whatever.)

I guess she forgot that I:

  • Attend most school board meetings – even the special ones they announce at the last minute so no one has time to attend
  • Ran for a school board seat in 2014
  • Was twice elected to the Site Council at a Westside CM school
  • Was an active member of the PTA in every school my kids attended (and was often the only dad present)
  • Was an active booster for two Estancia sports teams while my son was a student there
  • Regularly conduct research into innovations in education
  • Recommended a highly credible, viable superintendent candidate after Jeff Hubbard was fired and before Frederick Navarro was hired (the candidate was never interviewed, never contacted)
  • Started this blog over three years ago with a series of 12 recommendations for academic improvement that had either already been proven to work at the school level, or which showed promise in at least one reputable study
  • Was endorsed by the N-M Federation of Teachers during my campaign
  • And more

Snell also took me to task for not taking a tour of Adams El during the time I was pointing out that the school, which is walking distance from her house, was performing so badly that parents in Mesa Verde were sending their kids elsewhere.

She’s right on that one. I did not take a tour. I did not take a tour because I have taken them before and it is like Bill Murray’s experience in “Groundhog Day” – reliving the same thing over and over: Everything is great, everyone is happy, and the school has its sights set on even better achievement. But apparently it has never occurred to Snell that a trustee taking a school tour is like viewing a home on the day it goes up for sale: It has never looked as good.

So… Let’s take a peek at the academic performance at Adams at this time. According to the recent Smarter Balanced test scores, 45.45% of sixth graders did not meet the standards for English and 76.09% of sixth graders did not meet the standards for math. These are the kids who are being promoted to middle school…

But wait, there’s more!

Unfortunately, the “more” is worse news. Those 2017 figures are worse than 2016. In 2016 at the school down the street from Snell’s home, it was 42% in English and 69% in math. Yes, the school is going backward.

You can see these scores and all the others here:

If you go to the website, you’re going to see some slight-of-hand by the Calif. Dept. of Education. The scores are broken down into four categories, two of which are “standard not met” and “standard nearly met.” There is no such thing as “nearly met.” That’s like being “almost pregnant.” Either the standards were met, or they weren’t

Snell can criticize me all she wants. All it does is drive more people my blog and give me more stuff to write about. But at the end of the day, this is about improving academic performance so instead of taking time to try to disparage critics, Snell may want to use those moments to come up with at least one public presentation of a new idea.

She may also want to consider an end to those tours because they seem to be a jinx.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD

P.S. At Estancia, also in her zone, 83% of 11th graders did not meet the standard for math. Just sayin’…



Walk the Walk. And Be Fiscally Responsible at the Same Time…

I pointed out yesterday how three people from one of the district’s law firms were present at Tuesday night’s predictable approval for area boundary map G. Two of them are attorneys – I am not sure about the third.

They were there for the entire meeting, which ran about an hour and 15 minutes. If they bill as many attorneys do, they bill for travel time and prep time as well. (Billing at 50% for travel time is common.)

Keep that information on hold while I relate two more items…

The community has been hearing for years about how we need to get students to be successful in the 21st century economy or society or whatever they’re calling it. That is the basis for distributing laptops and having kids work on computers as much as possible.

Despite that, however, not a single cabinet member uses a laptop at school board meetings, or, I assume, any other meetings. Instead, ALL of them hand write notes, some, most, or all of which eventually have to be transferred to… a computer! Hey!

Second item… I am a member of a city committee in Costa Mesa. At our first meeting in September, Mayor Pro Tem Sandy Genis and City Manager Tom Hatch wanted to give us some important information before we got started. But, darn, they were in Sacramento at the time of the meeting! Gee whiz and too bad? Nope:

They joined the meeting by Skype! That’s Genis on the far right and Hatch next to her.

So why couldn’t the trustees have done this with the attorneys and saved taxpayers some money? They could have – easily. The technology is ancient. But they didn’t because they are not wired that way. They don’t think entrepreneurially as you and I would because they just don’t care to do so. Their budget – a little more or less – is guaranteed each year and there is no incentive to save money. It simply does not occur to them.

It also does not occur to them to be innovative. I have attended most board meetings for a long time and I cannot recall a single time when a trustee made a presentation about some new concept that he or she would like to discuss or initiate.

(Note to new readers: This blog started during my school board campaign of 2014. I promised – and delivered – one new idea a week. Not outrageous stuff, but ideas that were working elsewhere or ideas based on reputable studies.)

For those of you who want to let me know that these attorneys may be on retainer and so the time they spent did not add anything to the legal bill, please allow me to explain retainers, legal or otherwise…

Retainers are agreed upon in advance and lawyers bill their hours against them. When there is no more money in the retainer, clients start getting bills for the overage.

The failure to walk the technology walk and incredible and continuing lack of fiscal responsibility are just two more reasons why we need new people on the board next year. Four seats are up for grabs: Yelsey, Franco, Metoyer, and Davenport. Franco just declared she is not running next year. When Yelsey was elected in 2016, she said 12 years was sufficient time to serve on the board and even though her 12th year is next year, she will run anyway.

Count on it.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD



That Was Not a Special Meeting.

(Note to new readers from Costa Mesa Public Square and Costa Mesa Voice. This blog began as a communications tool for my school board campaign of 2014. Back then, I promised that win or lose, I would continue. Comments are welcome and all are printed anonymously unless you provide approval. This is done to protect teachers from possible district retaliation for speaking out.)

Agenda item No. 9 for last night’s special meeting of the school board was labeled “Discussion/Action Calendar” and focused on the selection of one of two options for new trustee area boundaries, perhaps the most significant issue placed before the board since its inception. Bigger than any academic program, bigger than term limits.

But there was no discussion.

Ten people spoke during the public comments section and were met with board – or bored – indifference. Four of the trustees routinely paid little or no attention to the speakers. The trustees made no comments to the speakers and anyone who went three seconds over the three-minute time limit was approached by the security guard and asked to stop – this on a pre-arranged signal he was looking for from board president Karen Yelsey.

Most of the board paid no attention to the speakers because they did not care what they had to say.

After they suffered through the public comments section, several members of the board proceeded to read from prepared remarks about why they favor “Mystery” Map G over the community-preferred Map B. Then they voted unanimously for G.

No discussion. Little attention to and no dialog with the speakers. Prepared remarks. A special session instead of adding this to the regular board meeting. Short notice of this very important meeting. No trustee discussions at any of the “public hearings” held to gather community input. Going outside the established process to create a new map.

Add it all up and you have a sham – the most subverted action this board has taken since I have been writing about them, which is three presidents ago.

And as if pounding the community into submission were not enough, it was reported to me that following the meeting, two board members made highly inappropriate comments to a taxpayer.

During their comments, a few of the trustees wanted the audience to know how much attention they have been paying to Costa Mesa’s Westside schools. They want you to know about the events they attend, the staged tours they take, and the overall time they have invested.  (Has it not occurred to any trustee over the years that it’s a little strange that during these tours, there is never a hint of any bad news?) Why, Yelsey even offered that she spends more time on Westside matters than on issues in her own area! And trustee Metoyer even spoke a little Spanish! Yay! Trustee Dana Black mentioned the ELAC people who were invited to Sacramento!

Listening to these Westside comments, and more, I could not help but feel a condescending attitude, as though the board wants us to know that they are watching out for, as the late Leona Helmsley may have said, “the little people.” And there lies the root of this problem.

So let’s see what all of that time and attention has gotten students. According to the results of the 2017 Smarter Balanced Assessments, here is the percentage of 6th grade students who have NOT met the standards at three Westside schools:


Deplorable. (Note to the board: As long as the scores are this miserable, I wouldn’t be crowing about all the time and attention you’re paying to the Westside. Bad for business.) The Westside has been suffering with poor test scores for decades, and despite their claims of more attention and time spent, they have not figured out how to crack the code. That alone is enough to advocate new faces on the board.

Oh, and there were three people from a law firm present, too, at least two of whom are lawyers. One of them got up and spoke for nearly ten minutes, giving us a history of the entire process.  He wanted us to know, among other things, that the board has seven members and that each are elected to a four-year term and that the terms are staggered by two years. Just in case you didn’t know that. Neither of the other two people spoke but I am sure taxpayers will be getting a bill for their time. (BTW, and he pronounced “Rea” – Ray – as “Ray-uh”)

Trustee Judy Franco told us she would not be running for re-election next year, and offered that this should bury specific criticism over Map G.

This was not a special meeting, it was a formality.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD

I Can’t Make Up Gems Like This

A recent e-mail from one of the district’s legal teams (yes, there is more than one) to a local taxpayer provided some clarification on the process to hold meetings – sorry, public hearings – to decide new trustee area boundaries. The e-mail contained this passage:

Additionally, the Superintendent did not encourage the Board members to attend the first two meetings to allow the public the freedom to speak and ask questions without offending any of the Board.

Yes, that is correct…”…without offending any of the board.” Oh, and the lawyer got it dead-on accurate with the phrase, “…allow the public the freedom to speak and ask questions.”

Unfortunately, the public did not get that opportunity at ANY of the meetings, not just the first two.

This is not the lawyer’s fault – he is only reporting the facts. But to think that the superintendent did not encourage them to attend meetings on this monumental issue because they might get their feelings hurt…

It makes sense that the super would say that. This year, we have had two board members who wasted valuable time muttering lengthy speeches about how much they are not appreciated, how they do all this work for so little compensation, and how dare some people criticize them when those people are not running for office.

My dad once fired the nephew of the owner of the large company for which he worked. He didn’t ask the boss, he just did it. Years later, I asked my dad where he found the courage to do that. He told me that he was in a leadership position and said – I can still hear him saying it –  “If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

Thanks, dad.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD

The Value

Shortly after 6 p.m. tonight, the school board will ratify Mystery Map G, their preferred map choice for drawing new boundaries for trustee Areas. This is as certain as the sunrise.

They will do so with little internal discussion, preferring instead to just get it over with. That’s one of the reasons they’re taking the vote in a special meeting tonight and not during the regularly scheduled board meeting just a week away.

The board’s public discussion on the merits of the map choices has been almost non-existent. The “community meetings” they held were labeled that way to give them the freedom to stay mum during the entire series of events. Imagine… An issue this big and the board purposely chose to refrain from any public comments during any of the meetings.

If anyone needed just one reason why more people are getting fed up with this school board, that would be it.

All of the talking prior to the vote will not change their minds – the fix has been in since Mystery Map G was created. But there is still tremendous value in showing up and speaking. It is valuable if only to let them know that they are not fooling all of the people all of the time, and to let them know that there is a growing group of people who are fed up with their irresponsibility and lack of accountability.

6:00 2985 Bear St., Costa Mesa. There should be plenty of parking because the notice of this meeting was issued only last Friday. And that’s another issue…

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD