How the N-MUSD Will Solve the Rat Problem

1. Hold a series of fake community input meetings to gauge public opinion… What do you think about rats on campuses? What would you like to see happen? Please fill out this card and put stickers on this flip chart so we can pretend like we care and are doing something about the problem.

2. Hire a team of consultants to determine what species of rat they are dealing with.

3. Consultants take 6 weeks to test various cheeses to see what works in the traps.

4. Consult with PETA to make sure that the rats are dealt with in a humane manner.

5. Drag this whole thing out until summer, at which time kids and teachers will be out of school and everyone will have forgotten the whole thing.

Steve Smith


Rats and Strikes

Regular readers of this blog know that if there are significant lapses between posts, it is almost always because I have been working and unable to give this blog the attention it deserves.

I’m still busy – very busy – which is always a sign of a healthier economy. But life isn’t just about work and recent events have caused me to take a timeout.

A common sentiment in this space is the failure of the N-MUSD trustees to connect the dots. Each blunder, each bad decision, is treated only as a nuisance; a brush fire that must be extinguished before it becomes an inferno.

They do this primarily for two reasons. The first is that, collectively, they do not have, or have lost, the ability to see how events interact. Any reasonable observer would look at the tremendous mismanagement of the district over the past five years and come to the conclusion that leadership is failing. The list of waste and mistakes includes but is not limited to:

  • Grade hacking
  • Prom draft
  • Swun Math
  • Area lawsuit
  • Boss/Huntington lawsuit
  • Rats
  • Estancia pool
  • Estancia poles
  • Estancia stink
  • Caldecott termination
  • Skyrocketing legal fees
  • Tainted musical instruments
  • Campus safety delays
  • CdM sports complex delays
  • Poor Smarter Balanced scores

But to the trustees, there is no connection between the prom draft and the rats in the classrooms at Newport Harbor High. The Mariners Gold Ribbon scandal and the premature draining of the pool at Estancia High did not happen in a vacuum, they are closely related.

When taken as a whole, the performance of the trustees and the administration they have allowed to run the district with little oversight is horrendous. That, however, did not prevent the trustees from awarding the superintendent a bonus of $34,450 last December, to purchase an annuity of his choosing, and to rate his performance “exceptional.” And it did not prevent them from recently handing out raises to members of the administration who are already getting enough compensation – too much, in fact, when judged by their performance.

And that’s one of the issues here: The administrators are not judged by their performance, they are judged by how well they don’t challenge the status quo. Toe the line, pal, and there is money to be made. There is a person in the administration who is responsible for wrecking the aquatics program at Estancia by draining the pool. Oh, he was not the one who pulled the plug, but the pool is in his bailiwick, yet, he just got more tax dollars and an “attaboy.”

The second reason for segmenting all of these blunders is that this is the way they have always done it and it has always worked. The trustee with the least experience is Charlene Metoyer, who was elected in 2014. Next comes current president Vicki Snell, who was appointed in 2012. After that, we’re off and running: Walt Davenport… 8 years. Karen Yelsey… 12 years. Dana Black… 22 years. Martha Fluor… 27 years. Judy Franco… elected in 1980, the same year Ronald Reagan became president.

The brush fire approach is decades old and it works. It works so well that trustees have counted on this approach to keep the public mollified and to maintain the status quo.

Connecting the Dots

Across the country, teachers are speaking up. In Colorado, Georgia, Arizona, Oklahoma, and Kentucky, teacher strikes have occurred or are planned. In North Carolina on May 16, teachers are striking for one day.

An op-ed piece in Newsweek listed five reasons for the flurry of teacher activism, the first being a demand for more money. That told me that the writer did not fully understand the nature of the problem.

Last week, students and a few teachers at Newport Harbor High staged brief walkouts to protest the presence of rats in classrooms. It may seem to the casual observer that they are protesting the presence of rats, but the rats are merely a symptom – just as the national teacher strikes are a symptom.

The root problem is a lack of respect for teachers and the teaching profession. The problem is not unique to Newport-Mesa, it is a problem everywhere.

I’ve written it so many times: Teachers do not get into the profession to get rich, or even to get way ahead. They teach because they like to and want to. In 2018, however, they have had enough. They are tired of seeing the obscene amounts of money being thrown at administrators who have little or no accountability and they are tired of conditions that distract them from doing what they came to do. In Newport-Mesa, that means, among other things, teaching in hot classrooms, and putting up with rats despite repeated complaints (The rats at Newport Harbor were supposed to have been conquered during the holiday break in 2016).

The United States is experiencing a new type of teacher – younger people who will not stand for the crumbs their predecessors accepted, the hollow platitudes about how much they are appreciated, and the unspoken rule that teachers should avoid controversial topics.

To them, I say, “Welcome to the fight.”

Steve Smith


Was this a threat?

In one of the emails revealed by John Caldecott’s CPRA request, school board club member Vicki Snell is exchanging thoughts with a taxpayer. Snell was upset at the treatment of her at a recent parent meeting. She wrote:

“The parents at the recent meeting were rude to staff and myself and being disappointed is no excuse.”

This is not the sentiment of someone who is sympathetic to the plight of the parents and student-athletes who suffered needlessly because a district employee or employees made the very bad decision to drain the Estancia pool.

This is the sentiment of someone who could not care less. Perhaps it never occurred to Snell that the reason the parents were so upset is because the district failed to own this mess.

I teach customer service – been doing it for years. When an organization makes a mistake, most of the time – and I mean far more than 51% – all people want is a sincere apology. That’s it.

But wait, there’s more…

In the same e-mail in want could be interpreted as a veiled threat over the future of the pool Snell wrote:

“Everyone needs to face the reality of the situation. $7M buys a lot of air conditioning benefiting many many more children than a pool at Estancia. I’m working to move this project forward as quickly as possible to completion. I hope we can work together to do
this.” – N-MUSD Trustee Vicki Snell, e-mail of Nov. 4, 2017

“$7M buys a lot of air conditioning.” So, is she saying that maybe, just maybe, the pool money could be used instead for air conditioning? That’s followed by an almost sinister close… I hope we can work together to do this.” 

So perhaps that close another way of saying, “The ball is in your court. You can be nice to me and I’ll get you your pool, or you and the parents can be mean to me and I’ll recommend that we use the pool money for air conditioners.”

I’m not sure what it means but it seems clear from this e-mail that the pool deal was not a done deal.


It Never Ends

Yes, Trustee Vicki Snell is right: Reporting on all the blunders, financial missteps, and lack of accountability and transparency is exhausting.

But, I have to soldier on.

The Daily Pilot has just run a story on the Mariners Gold Ribbon Application scandal. That’s the application that was claimed to have “untruths and inaccuracies” and was signed by the superintendent.

In the story, writer Daniel Langhorne wrote:

“Lee-Sung wrote that investigators found no evidence that Canzone made malicious or blatantly fabricated statements in the application submitted in fall 2015 for a California Gold Ribbon School Award, which the school received. However, they did determine that she included some inaccurate information, Lee-Sung wrote.”

Here’s the link to the DP story:

So, let me see if I have this straight… There were no blatantly fabricated statements, which in plain language is called a lie. There were no “untruths” but there were some “inaccuracies.”

And for that, she got chased out of the district.

How does the lack of untruths and the presence of inaccuracies compare to the information on the state of the Estancia pool that was given to Trustee Karen Yelsey last October? Back then, Yelsey said flat out that the pool could not be refilled. She was sincere but she was relying on some really bad info that was either an untruth or an inaccuracy. The pool was recently refilled.

So based on Canzone’s treatment, shouldn’t the person who gave Yelsey the pool information also be sent to Siberia?

Of course. But that’s not how it works in the N-MUSD. Canzone did not have clean hands, but they weren’t very dirty and despite the fact that the superintendent also signed the Gold Ribbon application, she was thrown under the bus.

And people wonder why more district employees do not speak up.

Remember: New trustees in November.


Money for Nothing

  • 83% of the 11th graders at Estancia High failed to meet the 2017 state standards for math.
  • District-wide, 50% of all the students failed to meet the 2017 state standard for math.
  • At Estancia High, the swimming pool was drained before there was a plan in place to construct a new aquatics center, wasting tens of thousands of gallons of precious water while we are in a drought and wrecking the school’s aquatics program. The community was told in October that the pool could not be filled but it was recently filled at a cost of over $100,000.
  • Massive poles at Estancia that were erected to prevent foul balls from damage poorly placed solar panels were removed after neighbors cried “Foul!” The community was told that they would be re-purposed within the district, but the poles were shipped to Costa Mesa High and recently sold.
  • A flawed math program was replaced last year only after teacher and parent complaints became too loud and too numerous to ignore.
  • Unsanitary and unsightly conditions at one CM campus were recently corrected only after a parent’s repeated complaints.
  • Rats on campuses
  • The so-called “Collegiate Calendar” was adopted even though the community – whose opinions were sought by the district – voted against it.
  • The new trustee area map was approved despite an appropriate presentation to the community.
  • Skyrocketing legal fees
  • A snail’s pace to complete the safety programs at schools

Despite these issues and so many more, the executives in the N-MUSD will be receiving more of your tax dollars this summer. The superintendent – the guy who is responsible for overseeing everything in the district – will get a 2.5% raise, which is in addition to the $34,450 bonus he received in December when the trustees labeled his performance “exceptional.”

It’s beyond absurd, beyond mind-boggling. It’s as though there is some mass hypnosis affecting the trustees causing them to hand out your tax dollars without holding anyone accountable for anything.

There is no point in complaining to them. They have been doing this for years and complaining will not make a difference. The only way to correct this behavior is to replace the trustees with people who understand that when executive raises are given while so many things need improvement, and without a list of firm, actionable expectations, the money is not a reward for past performance, it is a handout. Handouts are counterproductive. Handouts lower the performance bar and send the signal to employees that “good enough” is OK. In some cases, it tells them that “not so good” is good enough.

If you’re upset about this, don’t bother complaining to the trustees. Channel that energy this summer and fall into replacing the four school board members who are up for re-election:

Charlene Metoyer

Walt Davenport

Judy Franco

Karen Yelsey

Franco recently announced that she is not running but there are no doubt plans in place to offer a candidate with a like-minded approach.

Yelsey indicated when she ran in 2006 that 12 years is a sufficient term for a school board member but my guess is that she will run this year anyway.

No word yet on Davenport and Metoyer.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD


I can’t hear you

There was a school board club meeting last night but you didn’t miss anything. With so many critical issues facing the trustees at this time, it was just business as usual:

  1. Lather
  2. Rubber stamp
  3. Repeat

The e-mails revealed as a result of the recent CPRA request have been on my mind since I read them a few days ago (They are in their entirety in the previous post). When I tried to boil them down to one result or one theme, it came down to this: Collectively, the current school board lacks a fundamental trait, one that is evident in every successful person I know.

The trait that these successful people have in common is that they are all very good listeners. I will come back to this in a moment.

I spoke last night. This is what I said:

“Mrs. Snell, a recent CPRA request revealed that in a January 18 e-mail to a taxpayer you wrote the following about Sandy Asper, a respected member of the Newport-Mesa community:

“QUOTE  The latest ‘Sandy’ posts….a joke…especially her cartoons. I believe she is losing it. UNQUOTE

“Mrs. Snell, I find this comical. You spent about 21 thousand dollars to get elected to a job that pays you about $450 a month and you claim that Sandy is losing it.

“Later in the same e-mail, you mention a few names, including mine, and called us “haters.”

“In one e-mail, you maligned a respected citizen and labeled several others. Mrs. Snell, if you were in high school you could be suspended for bullying.

“But you are not in high school, you are a member of the school board and none of your colleagues will give a thought to some sort of reprimand, despite the fact that your remarks are irresponsible and reckless, and that you have violated the code of conduct of the Board of Trustees.

“So, I just did it for them.

“Thank you.”

Before continuing, I want to make something very clear: Sandy Asper has one of the sharpest minds of anyone I know, and I know a lot of sharp minds. Asper is constantly focused on ideas, concepts, and solutions, unlike Snell, who would rather talk about people.

Asper doesn’t need me to come to her defense and as she reads this, she will probably bristle at my doing so. But I’m not writing this for her, I’m writing it for me – so I can tell Snell that not only is she out of line in sharing this thought with a taxpayer on the public record, she is wrong.

Stay, just a little bit longer

After I spoke, I sat down and waited for two other speakers to finish.  Laurie Smith spoke on school safety and Cynthia Blackwell spoke on high school voter registration.

I was later told that one of the school board club members said that they wished the speakers would stick around so they could hear the responses from the trustees.

I used to do that, in fact, it wasn’t all that long ago that I started leaving after the public comments. It has been a slow process: I used to stay through the entire meeting. Then I started to leave after the trustee comments – before the superintendent spoke because he rarely said anything substantive. Then I started leaving after the agenda was completed and now I leave after the public comments.

The process has been slow because I clung to the belief that I would witness some breakthrough; some moment of clarity that would tell me that beneath it all, the trustees really do get it.

But they don’t get it and I have no hope that the current make-up of this board ever will. That will take new trustees.

I no longer stick around because the concept of sitting in the audience listening to the trustees respond is precisely what is wrong with the process. The trustees could easily ask a speaker to stay at the podium to discuss something that is of interest to them – there is no rule against it. But they prefer to maintain tight control of the process and tell the speakers what they think with no further discussion.

I saw this at the almost-secret special meeting of March 2 – three times that morning – and this preference was confirmed last night. Consider:

  • Twice this year, I have told the trustees that the administration is not giving them all of the information they need to make the best decisions. That’s pretty big stuff. But not one of them has reached out to me for clarification or amplification. No trustee has said anything remotely close to, “Steve, I’m concerned about what you’re telling us. Can you give us any more information or insight?”
    (Need proof? In the previous post, you can read an e-mail from Trustee Karen Yelsey who told a taxpayer that the Estancia pool could not be refilled. Yelsey did not make this up on the fly, she wrote it in good faith based on information from a district staff member or a consultant on whom she relied for accurate information. I believe this to be the case. The pool was recently refilled.)
  • A few meetings ago, I told the trustees that I had received two fresh reports of rats on campuses. No trustee, and no member of the administration who was there that night bothered to ask me the locations of the rats so they could address the problem.
  • For years, teachers and parents complained about a faulty math program and the trustees did nothing. It was only after the hue and cry got so loud that they had to whack that mole back into its hole.
  • The community voted against the Collegiate Calendar, but the district is adopting it anyway.

These are just a few examples. There are many more.

The trustees don’t ask because they don’t care. If they did care, they’d ask or they would follow-up. That’s it, that’s the bottom line.

I am resigned to this fact. but it works both ways: If they don’t care what I have to say, I no longer care what they have to say.

And it’s quite alright to disagree. The problem arises when they want only to speak and not to have a conversation.

This matter of listening – listening because you want to or like to, not because you have to – is so fundamentally important that it is at the heart of what is wrong with the current panel of trustees.

Becoming a good listener can be learned. In fact, I’m still working on it. What I have found in the process is that listening leads to success. They are inseparable.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD



Local WikiLeaks

A recent CPRA request via John Caldecott revealed a series of e-mails between a couple of the N-MUSD trustees and members of the public and the administration. Below are two series of e-mail responses by the trustees. The first e-mail is a response to a taxpayer by Trustee and current school board club president Vicki Snell. The second series is about the draining of the Estancia pool.

Just so’s you know: E-mails to and from the trustees are considered matters of public record, as are text messages, even if those texts are not transmitted on a district-supplied phone.


“It appears we continue to not agree on my responsibility as a trustee. All issues brought forth are addressed in public and at special meetings, however, the answers are not always what all people may want to hear. Do I think we could do a better job of finding ways to instill trust? Do I think better decisions could have been made by our experts? Sure. But look at what happens when responsibility is taken and actions are corrected. Is it any wonder that some are reticent to reverse decisions. You talk about courage…well it took a lot of courage to take down those poles at Estancia even though it was used at election time and still to this day to incriminate everyone. It was the fair and right decision for the neighborhood and as long as I serve that will not change.

“The District is not perfect…and I’ve never said all decisions are completely correct, however, we have many talented people and they do the best they can to support our kids. Hindsight is easy…criticism is easy…especially when those doing it do not do their homework and don’t have all the pieces. False facts are also a favorite of the uninformed. It never ceases to amaze me and I grow tired of correcting them.

“The vast majority of our 22,000 students and families are very happy at our schools and appreciate the opportunities. The haters…well…very few. Their postings/rankings..rarely commented on. Look at the “likes”….non consequential. [sic] The latest “Sandy” posts….a joke…especially her cartoons. I believe she is losing it. I have met with these people…Steve….Sandy…Wendy…Erika. Some more than once as have many of my colleagues. They ask the same questions but don’t believe the answers. They are only interested in continuing to perpetuate false “facts” and conspiracy theories.

“I’m facing the reality that in 2018 there will be at least two new board members, perhaps more if Karen doesn’t run. New blood is good and brings up new ideas and ways of doing things. I have faith too that those elected will do what is best for kids but do I think some magical fix will happen to make the haters happy. No way. The haters will continue to find fault and blame because that’s all they know how to do. It must be exhausting.

“I will continue to think about your offer and really do appreciate the positive projects you do for our community. It’s difficult for people to attend all the events/meetings and you give them an easy way to stay in touch.” – N-MUSD Trustee Vicki Snell, Jan. 18, 2018



“Unfortunately, the Estancia pool cannot be filled and reopened. Preparations have already begun to be ready for construction.” – N-MUSD Trustee Karen Yelsey, e-mail of Oct. 12, 2017


“As you know, we have have [sic] speakers Tuesday that are unhappy with the delay of the pool. One of their questions will be why we cannot refill the pool. I believe it is important to have the facts explaining why this cannot happen…if indeed it cannot. A simple…we
can’t do…is not enough. If we do not have those facts as of yet, we need to get them. I don’t know where you are in the process of this entire issue, but I want complete honesty in the mistakes we have made. If you do not have all the answers as of yet, that’s okay too. After our speakers, I will ask for your comments. Letting our parents know that we are sorry for this delay and will be having a meeting outlining all our options and future plans is important and may be enough. That’s your call.” – N-MUSD Trustee Vicki Snell, e-mail of Oct. 23, 2017


“I do t [sic] know where you got your info but you obviously chose to believe the worse. Today I asked Tim to give a briefsummary [sic] of the pool process. The information given was no different that [sic] what you were told…except perhaps with less detail. I’m sorry you feel you cannot trust me or the district. I suggest you contact your principal if you have any further issues. Perhaps he can work better with your group as I am apparently of no help.” – N-MUSD Trustee Vicki Snell, e-mail of Nov. 3, 2017


“I apologize if my response seemed harsh but your email to me was harsh as well. I realize you have put in many years as a volunteer and are just looking out for your school and your children, however, I have done the same thing and continue as well to dedicate my time to our school. I have fought the same battles as you and suffered the same feelings. It was extremely hurtful to me to receive your email. I had thought you would have said “Hey Vicki…what happened at this meeting? I’m hearing……” but you went on attack. I am just a flawed person like everyone else but I can only take so much. The parents at the recent meeting were rude to staff and myself and being disappointed is no excuse. I realize mistakes were made and the district owed them…but we are all trying to rectify the situation. Parents say they want the truth and to be a part of the solution but I don’t think they do. It’s not a perfect world and certainly not a perfect district but most of the people are trying to do the best they can. We are responsible to the voters but we are not punching bags.

“Everyone needs to face the reality of the situation. $7M buys a lot of air conditioning benefiting many many more children than a pool at Estancia. I’m working to move this project forward as quickly as possible to completion. I hope we can work together to do
this.” – N-MUSD Trustee Vicki Snell, e-mail of Nov. 4, 2017


“I completely understand your anger…really I do. As you have seen, I get very frustrated and impatient as well. I promise you that as long as I am here, you can count on me to stand up for Estancia but I have to be strategic as well in order to get what we all want for our kids. You can always reach out to me with concerns and clarity on an issue. I also understand you must do what you think is best for [NAME] and I can only hope
you find there are more positives overall in remaining at Estancia with his classmates and his team. I’m optimistic that [NAME] has a renewed understanding of the issues with the program and he has told me he will work with the staff/students and parents to improve the morale and the quality of the program. I believe it’s so important to continue to model resilience for our kids as we face these disappointments…because life is chock full of them. It just doesn’t get any easier…as you well know.” – N-MUSD Trustee Vicki Snell, e-mail of Nov. 4, 2017


This is a great summation of issues that need to be addressed. Thanks for addressing them in a timely matter. I believe it would be helpful for the site to meet with parents as soon as possible on the first two issues as these are internally solved (with CMHS coordination) and would provide parents/students with some positive encouragement. I would like to see if there is any possibility that a partnership with CM Aquatics could begin sooner than 2019…at the very least the summer before. The Future Pool Plans meeting should be scheduled as soon as we have information but it is important to keep the issues separate so we don’t repeat the inclination for the community to blame on all the program issues on the pool schedule. Interested in your thoughts. –  N-MUSD Trustee Vicki Snell, e-mail of Nov. 4, 2017


“While I appreciate your taking the time to come to the meeting this morning and offer your opinions, your comments reflected a gross misunderstanding of the Board’s role and responsibility in the education process. You are not alone in this in this misconception but as a community leader, it is important you understand it.

“The School Board’s role is to set direction for our schools to ensure that a long term vision as well as short term goals are achieved. In order to accomplish this, we empower our professional staff and experts to oversee these efforts and report on the progress. In short, we decide on the “what” and the staff decides on the “how”.  We reflect the community in listening to their concerns and providing information on everything from programs and goals to our fiscal condition. We are responsible to the community but we make decisions that will best serve “all” the students. We make the rules (incorporating the Education codes), and provide direction through our policies and procedures.

“Most importantly, we understand the distinction between staff and Board roles. We are not the CEO. Our power is only as a group and not individually. In order to effectively run a district, you cannot have individual trustees instructing staff how to accomplish tasks. We have one employee, the Superintendent, and he takes responsibility for all issues and we hold him accountable.

“Personally, I have over the past three years spent at a minimum 300 hours in workshops and trainings [sic] in all aspects of governance and fiscal management. I received a CSBA Master in Governance. I continue to attend meetings on everything from math/english programs, legislation, student services, special education and variety of others subjects as well as interface with Board members from across California and the nation. The entire Board is knowledgable [sic] in all aspects of our responsibilities and roles.

“While I am disappointed in mistakes that have been made on several projects, I believe it is the result of a multitude of issues that are being addressed and will be followed by our Board. It is not helpful to us or the community to oversimplify the situation and assign blame without all the information. It is not helpful to offer your expert advice as if management and staff are not qualified for their jobs. Please remember we used “expert” advice from two sources in bidding this project initially. I respect your right as a parent and
community leader to speak out, however, I expected more of a constructive statement not disrespect and pretension.

“I believe the decisions made today were the right ones, but I will never make a decision based on insults and pressure from the community. I am proud of our District and all we have accomplished in the past 5 years. Opportunities for students in career and technology, orchestras in elementary school, modernizing and updating facilities and athletic fields. It can be disappointing when people narrow their focus to the extent that they cannot appreciate all the great things happening right here. I wish I could take people to other
Districts and let them see how far we are ahead of everyone else. You would be shocked.” –
N-MUSD Trustee Vicki Snell, e-mail of Nov. 4, 2017


There is so much here. Snell admitting that the district is not perfect and that the experts on which the board relies could have made better decisions. She acknowledges that the school board club will have some new members this year and that is a good thing.

In just these few e-mails, we get support for my two warnings this year to the board that they are not always receiving the information they need to make the best possible decisions. We see this in the Yelsey comment that the EHS pool “can’t” be refilled. Yelsey didn’t make that up, one of the so-called “experts” referred to by Snell told that to Yelsey: Can’t do it. Uh-uh. No way.

They recently refilled the pool.

We see Snell’s repeated defensive posture and too much emphasis on people instead of programs and solutions. In one e-mail, she is admitting that mistakes are being made but offers no solution; no attempt to fix a serious problem by, say, conducting a top-to-bottom review of the internal communications process to determine the weakest link(s) in the chain of command.

Particularly telling is Snell criticizing the critics on various levels, one of which is to state that “Sandy” has to be wrong because Snell believes she is “losing it.” Steve (moi) and others don’t have legitimate beefs, we’re just “haters.”

Strung together, we gain an insight into Snell’s preferred way of thinking. There is an emphasis on people and little substantive discussion of the process, or specific new ideas or plans for the future. And everyone else is shut out because they don’t have all the facts. Which leads us to the ongoing demand for transparency: Perhaps if the district were forthcoming with these important facts, there would be far less objection to the decisions they’re making.

But there I go, using that “logic” stuff again…

We read Snell’s self-defense with the recitation of resume highlights and time commitment, which only causes us to wonder why, with all of that extra credit, things are still being mismanaged.

Then there is the playing of the pity card: “I am just a flawed person like everyone else but I can only take so much.” This is the same person who wrote, ” … it’s so important to continue to model resilience for our kids as we face these disappointments…because life is chock full of them. It just doesn’t get any easier…as you well know.”

We’ve heard this so many times over the years. In each case, the trustees chose to run for office. Snell spent about $20,000 of her own money (to get a job paying about $400/mo. + health insurance) to get re-elected. Yes, that is correct: She had been on the job two years, already knew it was a hot seat, but she runs anyway and then complains about the complaints.

Snell needs to pick one: Either she can only take so much and is fed up or she needs to model resilience. Can’t have both.

Then there are the spins…

The district erected giant poles at Estancia (with nets, but the nets never went up) to protect solar panels from damage due to foul balls from the nearby baseball field. Why were the panels placed in prime foul ball territory? Because that is what the “experts” advised. It was only after community pressure that the poles were taken down. They were moved to Costa Mesa High, then sold, even though taxpayers were told in October that they would be “repurposed” in the district.

Of this “Ready! Fire! Aim!” mess, Snell wrote, “It took a lot of courage to take down those poles at Estancia even though it was used at election time and still to this day to incriminate everyone. It was the fair and right decision for the neighborhood and as long as I serve that will not change.”

“It took a lot of courage.” No, it did not take a lot of courage, it took an ounce of common sense. And has the person who pulled the trigger on the pole construction been reprimanded or disciplined? Beats me. How about taking some responsibility for placing the solar panels in a very bad spot? Had they been properly positioned in the first place, this mess would never have happened.

But, the experts said that’s where they should go and they were not challenged. Again.

This particular excerpt highlights an ongoing struggle for Snell and some of her trustee colleagues. Yes, there are people like Steve Smith – “haters,” according to Snell – who will keep reminding taxpayers of the waste of the poles, but I, for one, do this in the context of the larger issue, which is the mind-blowing number of blunders that have been made over the past five years.

The failure of the board to connect the dots from, say, the prom draft, to the Estancia swimming pool indicates that they are playing Whac-A-Mole: When a controversy pops-up, it is pounded down with more tax dollars, the passage of time, or by throwing someone under the bus. All of the episodes of mismanagement are just that: episodes. There are no trends to review and no connection of the dots, just another mole to pound down.

There is so much more hypocrisy to write about here, so much finger-pointing and blaming (it’s the experts, not the board, who are making the mistakes) but I have to stop. Snell is right: With so much to report, it is exhausting.

Steve Smith
N-MUSD Taxpayer and Hater



Like shooting fish in a barrel

I’m dating myself with that headline, I know, but it applies to the subject of this post.

The N-MUSD just lost another court battle, which continues the shutout: They have not won a decision in court against John Caldecott’s motions since he began filing them. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

Here’s what just happened: John Caldecott, former 10-year exemplary N-MUSD employee, believes that you have a right to know the contents of the investigation into teacher complaints of “untruths and inaccuracies” in the Mariners El application for Gold Ribbon status. So, he filed to make the investigation results public. The district disagreed and fought it. They lost the initial decision and were ordered to make the report public. They appealed that decision and (just) lost that one, too.

But wait, there’s more!

The sad part of this latest loss is that it never had a chance of winning the so-called appeal. In the decision, the court states clearly that “…an order under the Public Records Act is not appealable.”

In other words, the district filed a motion to have the court do something it could not do.

But wait, there’s even more!

The decision stated that while the Public Records decision is not appealable, it may be challenged via “writ petition” if it is filed within 20 days of the decision. That deadline passed a long time ago.

So, to summarize, the district’s attorneys filed a useless appeal and have missed their opportunity to file the needed paperwork to try to keep the report secret.

A few questions may be asked as a result of this latest loss:

Q: Why does the district want to prevent taxpayers from seeing the investigation results?

A: They will tell you that they want to protect personnel privacy, yadda, yadda, yadda. This doesn’t hold water because: a) They have attempted to keep many non-personnel issues secret, and b) there was so much publicity on this mess that everyone already knew who had been thrown under the bus.

Q: Gosh, Steve, what is the real reason the district wants to prevent taxpayers from seeing the investigation results?

A: The investigation will show that there was faulty communication and processing of the application. What is important in the report is not what it states, but what it doesn’t. It will not state is who is really responsible for the bungled application.

Q: So who is responsible?

A: The superintendent is ultimately responsible for this mess and for the many other messes that have occurred on his watch. In this particular case, the superintendent signed the application but has not and will not suffer any disciplinary action as a result and he will not own his part.

Q: Why are the trustees allowing this to proceed?

A: Because they are rubber-stamping, weak leaders who believe and approve everything the administration presents to them, rarely ask tough questions, and fail to hold any member of the administration accountable for anything. If you don’t believe me, attend any board meeting and see for yourself.

Q: So what happens next?

A: I would say that the ball is in their court, but actually, the game is over. They filed the wrong paperwork and have missed the deadline to file the correct paperwork. But don’t expect to see the report anytime soon because they are quite content to spend your hard-earned tax dollars throwing more legal spaghetti against the court walls to see if it sticks.

Q: How can this type of situation be prevented from happening again?

A: Elect new board members this November. There are four seats up for grabs: Metoyer, Davenport, Yelsey, and Franco. Yelsey is in her last year of a self-imposed term limit, but I am guessing she is surely going to run. And Franco has announced she will not run again.

About those fish…

For a time in high school, I worked two jobs after school. I started at a deli in which they sold fish that came in barrels, just like way back when. So the saying “like shooting fish in a barrel” refers to a task (catching a fish) that is easily accomplished.

For the Caldecott legal team, which has never lost a judgment against the district, getting a winning decision is like shooting fish in a barrel.

Just a head’s up for the trustees and the administration: Caldecott’s attorneys are hungry and they love fish.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD

Any spare change?

Awhile back, I gave up all hope of the school board club trying to change its ways. Actually, I am embarrassed to admit that it less than a year ago that I realized that hope was futile. Nothing will change unless and until we get some new trustees.

That realization is liberating. I no longer write about the board or speak to them with any expectations at all. I may still make recommendations, but they are strictly for the record; so that there is a public statement of another way to do things or a public record of outrage.

It was with this in mind that I attended another almost-secret “special” meeting of the school board club yesterday at 1 p.m. Yes, once again that would be a special meeting held while you are working or otherwise too busy with your life to attend.

This almost-secret special meeting was not posted on the district’s website calendar and the agenda was posted only last Friday at 3:24 p.m.

Why isn’t it on the calendar and why did they wait until Friday to post the agenda? Because they don’t want you to attend, that’s why. They don’t care about what you have to say and so it doesn’t occur to them to be more thoughtful about scheduling meetings or providing adequate notice, that’s why.

There was nothing special about this meeting, either. It was billed as an evaluation of the superintendent but that’s just for show. At this time, the school board club is going through the motions before rubber-stamping another raise for him. That would be on top of the bonus of $34,450 he got last December.

And why do they keep throwing money at him? Because they are fiscally irresponsible, that’s why. That’s what accounts for the many consultants they hire, the exorbitant legal fees they’ve racked up, and the failure to fully think things through, which has resulted in tremendous wastes of your money, as in the Estancia pool draining, the Estancia pole construction, the failed math program, and more.

The superintendent’s original 4-year contract is renewed each year, resulting in what is called an “evergreen” arrangement. In a true evergreen contractual agreement, there is an automatic renewal. In this case, the board has to vote on it each year, but that is a formality.

The most important consequence of this type of arrangement is the resulting lack of accountability, which has never been more apparent than in the last six years. Despite a huge number of blunders, financial waste, and legal woes, the contract is renewed, year after year.

Nice work if you can get it.

Some people have had enough and they have organized a group called Newport-Mesa Community for Students. Unlike past education activist groups, most of the people in the core of this group do not have kids in Newport-Mesa schools. They’re just fed up with the lack of accountability, the lack of transparency, and the fiscal irresponsibility and they’re trying to do something about it.

The Newport-Mesa Community for Students group has started with a Facebook page, which you can visit here:

The latest Facebook post is a list of evaluation criteria developed by the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), whose tagline reads, “The School Superintendents Association.” It seems to me that there is an apostrophe missing there, otherwise it should be “The Association for School Superintendents.” Otherwise, Part II: The AASA is not the only association for school superintendents, so the AASA’s self-designation of “the” association is inaccurate. Among many others, there is the National Association of School Superintendents. So the AASA tagline should really read, “An Association for School Superintendents.”

But I digress…

I spoke at yesterday’s almost-secret special school board club meeting. This is what I said:

“I am opposed to any additional compensation for anyone in this administration who is responsible for academic performance until a reasonable and specific set of goals for academic performance improvement is established and achieved.”

That’s it in a nutshell. No more money until the academic needles are moved at least a reasonable amount. At this time, half of the district’s students failed to meet the 2017 state standards for math.

Change is coming because more and more people are concerned about fundamental issues, the same three that have been mentioned here over and over. They are accountability, transparency, and fiscal responsibility.

For decades, we have been hearing that people hate change, but it was not until I began my career in marketing that I realized that is not true. One of the best examples is Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign, which included the slogan, “Change you can believe in.” Aside from the bad grammar, it included the word “change.” If enough people were really that afraid of change, Obama might still be in the U.S. Senate.

At least two current school board club members were elected because they were outraged and wanted to change things. Over 20 years ago, Trustee Dana Black was so upset over the fiscal irresponsibility of the district that she demanded a forensic accounting of its books. The basis of Trustee Karen Yelsey’s campaign was her support of term limits (12 years) and an end to the rubber stamping.

Yelsey is now rubber stamping with everyone else and she is in her 12th year as a trustee. Despite this, Yelsey will run again, creating some fake rationale for why she needs to continue on the board.

I believe that what people fear is not change, but what change represents, and change represents the unknown.

Change will come to the school board club not organically, that is, not through the long tradition of running candidates who will perpetuate the status quo, but through disruption and upheaval this fall. The change may be incremental, or it may be sudden.

Four seats open this year: Yelsey, Franco, Davenport, and Metoyer.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD