District Checkers

Chess is a game that requires strategic thought and planning. Good chess players start each game with a specific path to victory, many moves away.

Checkers, on the other hand, requires far less critical thinking. Checkers, known as the “lazy man’s chess,” is played on the same board as chess, but it depends far more on luck than the patience and skill required for chess.

A couple of days ago, the district announced more merry-go-round principal moves among its schools. According to the Daily Pilot story, “Supt. Fred Navarro announced Julie McCormick’s transfer to staff members at the Costa Mesa school on Friday. McCormick is scheduled to become principal of Newport Coast Elementary, and Newport Coast’s current principal, Duane Cox, is being reassigned to Rea Elementary in Costa Mesa, where he will replace interim Principal Alex Morales by next school year.”

Apparently, McCormick’s transfer is not going over very well at College Park. Parents are upset because they’re losing a good principal. Teachers are upset for that reason and also because they received no advance notice or appropriate rationale for the move. In other words, they were disrespected. That’s not unusual. I’ve been saying for years, that the district talk is cheap: Despite their repeated claims about how much they appreciate the teachers in the district, the administration and the school board have a history of  disrespect in negotiations, in transfers, and in listening.

Where was the trumpeted love and appreciation for teachers when they started to raise their hands about Swun Math? It was nowhere. The administration turned a blind eye to repeated complaints and it was only after a parent championed the cause that they scrapped the program, years later, years too late.

Back to College Park… This type of poor communication and disrespect for the “process” – a term the N-MUSD bureaucrats love to toss around – is a hallmark of the ineffective leadership with which we have been saddled. Don’t count on the school board club to do anything about this, either. The superintendent is supposed to be working for and answering to the trustees, but they abdicated that responsibility a long time ago. The tail has been wagging the dog for decades.

In the DP story, school board club president Karen Yelsey is quoted as saying, “the district will work closely with parents and staff to find a new principal for College Park that meets the needs’ of the community.”

Sure they will. Just like they did when they yanked Matt Broesamle from California Elementary and sent him over to Mariners, and just like they did when they assigned Michael Halt to Estancia.

“The needs of the community.” The trustees have no more idea of the needs of the N-MUSD community than does a resident of Riverside. If they did, they would have area representation years ago, term limits years ago, and a new math program years ago.

Maybe McCormick wanted out of College Park. Who knows? But that’s hardly the point. The point is the process, and there is a process.

Unfortunately, the administration and the school board club are playing checkers at a time when we need experts at chess.

Steve Smith
N-MUSD Taxpayer

Redacting the Truth

The internal district e-mail exchanges obtained by parent Erica Roberts after months of delays reveal chronic problems with the district’s elementary math program but no strategic plan to fix it. Instead, they used spit and Band-Aids to repair the program that would ultimately be scrapped.

Here is one teacher’s e-mail from as late as March, 2016, which reveals the frustration many of them felt:

Once again there is a mistake in the swun answer key. For Unit problem , the answer key says [redacted] when in actuality it should be [redacted] .
1 divided by 15 = .067 not .67..
Perhaps one day swun will get it right. This is getting really ridiculous.

The terrifying aspects of this years-long bungle are:

  1. Students were continued to be taught math through a flawed program long after chronic problems were revealed. This violates the most sacred goal of the district, which is to provide the best possible education for our students.
  2. No one took ownership of this mess. Not one person had the moral courage to stand up and admit any responsibility. Yet, in his last review, the school board club gave the superintendent more tax dollars and a rating of “exceptional.”
  3. It took a parent, Erica Roberts, to force the district to do what teachers knew they should have done years before.

Students, teachers, parents, and taxpayers don’t need bureaucrats who sacrifice students at the altar of responsibility. We need courageous leaders who have the personal confidence in their abilities to speak up and speak out and take responsibility for whatever part they had in whatever mess has been created.

Ultimately, this scandal belongs to the school board club, which trusted highly-paid administrators to fix everything. The club members failed to ask the right questions, failed to hold anyone accountable, and failed in their chief responsibility.

In the 31 years I have lived here, no scandal comes close to this one.

There are people who should be ashamed of themselves; people who should resign as a result of what they did and did not do.

Instead, we get business as usual.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD

Slowly Grinding Wheels

One of the hallmarks of effective leadership is the ability to know when you are wrong, admit it, and work to find a solution. Unfortunately, we do not have an administration or school board that seems to understand this fundamental concept.

Owning mistakes is usually a fait accompli, too, because everyone else involved knows who is to blame and why. With each passing day without a confession, the reputation  of the culprit suffers.

In the pile of documents received by N-MUSD parent Erica Roberts – months after she requested them – there are clear indications that the decision-makers in the district were trying to salvage a controversial math program as late as last summer, long after numerous flaws had been exposed. Instead of someone, say, for example, the superintendent, raising his and saying, “Houston, we have a problem and I may have caused it,” he distanced himself from the controversy, allowing lieutenants to scramble to find solutions for a program too wrecked to salvage

In one e-mail dated August 23, 2016, an elementary school teacher expressed concern about the flow of information regarding the math program and wrote:

“Speaking of hearing feedback, I am concerned that there has been a breakdown in communication with regards to SWUN Math, as evidenced posed tonight by Honorable Board Member Snell. She asked (and I thanked her for doing so) if there were errors in the curriculum prior to its conversion to [Common Core] alignment.

“The question reveals to me that teacher feedback has not been getting to the right place (superintendent and board members) for a very long time. I am including below a portion of the e-mails I wrote – many prior to school-wide adoption of the program and prior to [Common Core] conversion – to illuminate specific and significant problems with pedagogy as well as editing errors of which you so often hear. Please note the dates of the e-mails.”

Ah, yes… the dates.

Here’s a sample e-mail from a teacher to a person employed by the math program vendor:

“I will now keep a log of my questions as they are many. I seem to find ‘errors’ on every page of the past lessons I’ve done, which my students are finding confusing and distracting to the lessons. I am starting to wonder whether they are truly errors or somehow our misreadings.”

And the reply:

“Thank you for previewing the lessons and Instructional Strategies so closely before teaching them. You found some errors that our editors and other teachers did not!”

That exchange is from January. That would be January, 2013.

I’ve asked it here before and I’ll ask it again: How many elementary school students in the district have been turned off by math or otherwise suffered because of the adoption of a flawed program?

When all is said and done, this may be the greatest school district tragedy in the 31 years I have been living here. Bigger than the Wagner embezzlement, bigger than the Hubbard trial, bigger than anything. Bigger even than the fiscal mismanagement that led to hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer-supported bonds. Why? Because the district failed to perform its most important mission, which is to provide an excellent curriculum that will teach and inspire students.

How many teachers, and parents, too, suffered as a result of the foot-dragging, head-in-the-sand response to teacher complaints?

And yet, as late as last June, some were still trying to prop up the program by contemplating a dog and pony show to combat negative reactions.

So what did the board do in response to this tragedy? The recently gave the guy in charge – the superintendent – a raise and a performance rating of “exceptional.”

In the private sector, a mistake of this magnitude would be grounds for dismissal, but in the N-MUSD, you get a reward.

Steve Smith
N-MUSD taxpayer


“Your Three Minutes Are Up,” and Other Tales of (Dis)Respect…

Time seems to be of great importance to the school board club. The three minutes allotted to each member of the public is supposed to be applied to everyone, but there are many instances – some of which have been noted here – in which speakers have gone on far past the three-minute mark.

Allowing someone to go past the limit is at the discretion of the club president.

Last night, there was a discussion about changing the rules regarding public speakers. Should they be allowed to cede time to someone else? If they speak on an agenda item, should they be forced to wait for that item to come up on the agenda? And more.

These discussions amount to fiddling while Rome burns – hand-wringing and worry about the wrong things. Want to stop the policy of ceding time to someone else? Fine. Go ahead. In all the board meetings I’ve ever attended, it has happened so few times that it is not worth mentioning.

But the school board club thinks it’s a big deal so it got agenda time.

Meetings will also end at 10:30 p.m. instead of 11. As if that ever mattered.

$8K for Birds and Fish

There was also a lot of time spent on the district’s new logo. Here are the options presented:



After seeing these options, there was a lengthy discussion on the symbolism and a reading of the definition of a brand by club member Martha Fluor, who also wondered about how the logo would appear on their lapel pins.

Club member Judy Franco likes the starfish that is currently on their business cards.

Club member Dana Black tried to get her colleagues to present the new logo options to the community for input but she did not succeed. For this, we need community input. For all the other pressing matters, we do not.

And – make sure you’re seated – club member Walt Davenport spoke on the logo issue. Silent on just about everything else for as long as I can remember, Davenport chose this extremely important matter to offer his two cents.

I like the font they chose, though the tracking (space between the letters) on the non-hyphenated version is too much. The graphics, however, miss the mark. I guess one is supposed to be birds soaring up in the sky and the other is supposed to be a digital school of fish, though I can’t be sure.

In forsaking all of the traditional graphic elements of a district logo, they have come up with options that need to be explained. And that’s the rule: If you have to explain it, it’s wrong.

This is not surprising, though. This is a topic so important that a committee of concerned citizens was formed to discuss what the logo should look like to provide guidance to the agency that created it. The committee should have consisted of two people: A graphic artist and the school board club president. Instead, taxpayers got the proof of the old adage about the camel: A horse that was designed by a committee.

And get this: The debate on this super-important topic was so intense that the final vote was 4-3 in favor.

So while legal fees rise and accountability for a disastrous math program remains elusive, among other things, the school board club found this to be worthy of a public committee and division among the ranks.

Recommendation to the club: You may think this is a big deal, but it’s not. Pick one and let’s move on.

Oh, and there was a phrase on the screen around this time that I wrote down but haven’t a clue as to what it was connected to.  The phrase is “relationship-driven school communities.”

I have no clue as to what that is. Just another example of edu-speak.

Speaking Up and Speaking Out

I spoke last night. This is what I said:

“Mrs. Snell, two meetings ago, you complained about a lack of respect for some or all of the trustees.

Here’s another story about disrespect. This is the story about a parent in this district who has spent hundreds of hours and sacrificed critical family time to replace a math program none of you questioned when serious problems arose shortly after it was implemented. And she has done this without getting a six-figure salary or $450 a month and a generous health plan.

But in response to all of her hard work and persistence, she has been ignored and insulted, her records requests have been delayed for months, and she has been forced to jump through so many hoops that most people in this room would have given up a long time ago.

Instead Erica Roberts kept pushing, and finally, there is progress. Without her persistence, there is a very good chance that our students and teachers would be suffering under the old math program this fall.

“You may not like Mrs. Roberts. You may not like the way she works. Maybe it’s not the way you would do it or the way you’d like to have it done. You may think that she is a pest or a nuisance. But to thousands of students, teachers, and parents, she is a hero.

“Despite countless opportunities, not one of you has taken time to publicly acknowledge what she has done or thank her for all her hard work. Instead, you focused on whether she was speaking for three minutes.

“I suggest that if anyone on this board or in the administration wants to get respect, start earning it tonight by donating part of your comments time to thank her for what she has accomplished on behalf of the elementary school kids, and their teachers and parents.

 “Thank you.”

No one took me up on my recommendation to thank Erica Roberts, and I did not expect them to. School board club meetings are carefully orchestrated to avoid any dissension (the logo debate was a rare exception) or bad news. This is a group that had to come kicking and screaming to area representation (and called it a “shakedown”), they are coming kicking and screaming to term limits, and they came kicking and screaming to replacing the math program.

They don’t like outsiders interfering in their business, despite the rhetoric about wanting community input. Outsiders only mess things up. So when Erica Roberts – with a big assist from her husband, Jeff – started sticking her nose in the math issue, it was met with the usual stall, stifle, and stymie.

Roberts was the catalyst for replacing the current math program, but her work has been scrubbed clean from all presentations and comments. In the end, as with so many other events, the new math program will be the brainstorm of a forward-thinking administration.

The rest of us know the truth.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD




What the Brief Doesn’t Tell You…

Shortly before each school board club meeting, the superintendent publishes a “Brief,” which highlights “… a few items that may be of interest to the general public.”

The brief for tomorrow night’s meeting includes the usual awards and reports, but it does not mention a few key agenda items.

First, there is item 16.a.11: It is recommended that the Board of Education approve the Retainer Agreement and budget allocation for Harbottle Law Group effective July 1, 2017 through June 30,2018 for legal services in the amount not to exceed $425,000.

Then there is item 16.a.7: It is recommended that the Board of Education approve an increase to the June 14, 2016 Board of Education approved budget authorization for the provision of legal services by the law firm of Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo (AALRR), an additional$105,000 bringing the total legal fees authorized for 2016-17 for this firm to $605,000.

A million dollars in legal fees. And that doesn’t include whatever dough they are spending with the law firm of Parker and Covert, which handle a lot of district business.

These two items will be rubber-stamped without any of the school board club members questioning anything. After all, it’s not real money, it’s just your tax dollars.

But wait, there’s more!

Item 16.3, which I will call the “Assault on the First Amendment” item, has several changes in the way meetings will be conducted. If this is approved – and my guess is that it will be approved by a vote of 7-0 – the public will no longer be able to “Cede his/her time to another speaker’ or speak as an aggregate for more than 20 minutes on any one topic, unless the president changes her mind. (Good luck with that.)

Oh, and meetings will no longer run to a maximum of 11 p.m. After tomorrow night, it will be 10:30 p.m. As if it matters. With all the rubber stamping and so little substantive discussion on anything, meetings rarely come even close to 10:30.

Finally, there is item 17.e: Approve Reorder of Board Agenda Sections, which is explained as, “Occasionally the Board will review the section order within their agenda. Keeping in mind the legal requirements, the Board may move item sections within the agenda” and states that the board will “… discuss the options and through consensus decide on changes to the order of the agenda sections.”

Can’t wait to see whether there will be any changes that will affect the public comments section.

Maybe they should hire another law firm to figure it out.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD

Respect This! Part II

Recap: In a rambling statement at the school board club meeting of April 25, club member Vicki Snell complained about the lack of respect she is receiving as an elected official – a volunteer – who serves the residents of Newport-Beach and Costa Mesa. Snell complained about her low compensation relative to the time she is spending but did not mention that she is receiving generous health benefits and that she used approximately $21,000 of family money to secure a position that pays her roughly $450 a month.

So… Fast forward to Tuesday night’s meeting. Here’s what disrespect really looks like:


This is a picture of superintendent Frederick Navarro ignoring parent Erica Roberts during Roberts’ thee minutes of comments Tuesday night. Roberts has led the charge to get the district to change the elementary math program. Before Roberts’ involvement, teacher and parent comments to the district about the many errors in the existing program fell on deaf ears.

Roberts, with a big assist from her husband, Jeff, started demanding answers and accountability from an administration and a school board club that was not used to being questioned. Along the way, the Roberts’ probably did not make a lot of friends in the admin or on the board, but making friends wasn’t the goal: They wanted a new math program.

In return for their many hours of research and activism, elementary students in the district are being rescued from a math program that raised teacher eyebrows early in its launch. In return for all that time and effort, Roberts last night got the cold shoulder from the superintendent, as she usually does. He barely acknowledged her during her comments.

To an administration and a school board club that doesn’t like interference from outsiders, the Roberts are not saviors, they are an annoyance.

At the conclusion of an update on the math program evolution, there was a slide thanking all those who were involved in this massive undertaking. It was a thoughtful nod to a deserving group of people. But I could not help but feel that the list should have included Erica and Jeff Roberts.

The parents, taxpayers, teachers, and students in the district owe the Roberts’ a huge “Thank you!” for what they have done. That’s not why the Roberts did it, but they deserve it anyway.

Other People’s Money

One under-reported agenda item is 16.d, which is “Adopt Resolution No. 40-05-17 Regarding Layoff of Classified Employees.”

In the background section,  the agenda item reads “Classified employees can be laid off for lack of work or lack of funds. This resolution includes relevant education codes and services to be reduced or eliminated.”

The Governing Board of the Newport-Mesa Unified School District has determined that the following positions be abolished for lack of work and/or lack of funds pursuant to California Education Code sections 45117 and 45308:

Classification Title                   No. of Positions       FTE
Instructional Assistant                       2                   0.375
Reading Resource Technician           1                   0.450

According to a knowledgeable source, this means that three positions may be eliminated. Two of them work about 13-15 hours a week and one of them works about 16-18 hours a week. Combined, that’s about 45 hours a week.

The classified employees are the people who make the trains run on time. They drive district buses, maintain facilities, work in food service, provide safety services, and perform many other important tasks.

If there is a specific compelling reason why 45 hours a week of classified work needed to be cut, I am not aware of it. But that’s not the worst part.

The worst part is reading this agenda item and watching it pass while on the same agenda, the district is approving item 16.a, which is to adopt a resolution “Recognizing May 21-27, 2017 Classified School Employee Week.”

Why didn’t any member of the overpaid brain trust see how hypocritical this is? Why didn’t one of them say, “Hey, maybe we should wait until a June board meeting to float the reduction in hours resolution?”

Maybe one of them did. Maybe one of them did and decided that they were going to do it anyway. Either way it is bad. Combining those two resolutions on the same agenda is insulting to the many hard-working classified employees in the district.

But wait, there’s more!

As if cutting classified hours just before recognition week weren’t enough, there is agenda item 15.a.8. Make sure you are sitting down.

15.a.8 reads, “It is recommended that the Board of Education approve an increase to the budget allocation for Harbottle Law Group for legal services and authorize the Acting Chief Business Official to execute as approved.”

Here’s the rationale: “Due to the complexity of ongoing hearings for Special Education, it has become necessary to increase the budget allocation an additional $200,000, bringing the 2016-17 budget allocation to $425,000, to cover the legal expenses involved in these hearings.  Costs involved in Special Education hearings cover a variety of legal expenses such as; research of laws regarding Special Education students, preparation and review of documents, collection of student records or correspondence by attorneys on behalf of district and clients.” 

Yeah, $425,000 more for a year of legal fees. It’s a good time to be a lawyer for the N-MUSD.

So while the school board club is heaping raises on the superintendent and spending a lot more of your money on lawyers, they’re cutting classified hours.

Business as usual on Bear St.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD


Respect This!

At the school board club meeting on April 25, club member Vicki Snell spoke for several minutes, the last three of which were ramblings about respect. Here is a close transcription:

“And… An earlier speaker spoke about respect and about feeling that they’re not being respected and I have to say I try and the board tries, to respect everybody that speaks but I believe that we deserve respect as well. We are public servants and we were elected and we’re beholden to the stakeholders but we’re also beholden to the kids. And when people come up and speak about things we are doing that they don’t agree with that is fine but when they attack individuals on the board or they disrespect us in ways by telling complete lies it’s sometimes hard to sit here and listen to it. It’s very difficult.

“One of the things that happened at the meeting that this speaker was referring to was the three minute rule

“Sure people go over three minutes once in awhile and we let them go over but when somebody speaks continuously at every meeting and they consistently go over not ten second by thirty seconds a minute – that is disrespectful. It is disrespectful to the process, it’s not fair to the other people who want to be heard.

“You’re supposed to speak for three minutes – that what it say and if you want to make it five minutes that’s a whole different thing but our bylaws say three minutes and um I guess I just – I’m blowing off some steam because I think respect goes both ways and w are giving of ourself to this community. I get $450 a month – I mean – that is not why I do this – I donate more than that (unintelligible).

And I also have  problem  – I have no problem with term limits, I’ve made my views on term limits known – but to assume that because somebody is older  and somebody has served this board and this community and to assume that they have no value, that they are in the pocket of this district, that they are disenfranchised – they just – I mean – that’s disrespectful. If you want to come up here and talk about real issues I’m open to that and we have people who do that – [people who say] I don’t like this, this is wrong – I’m open to that but don’t just attack us personally. And I know you will continue to do so, but I feel better now. [vigorous applause from club member Dana Black].”

Snell’s comments are of tremendous value, for they are an insight into the mind of someone who is feeling attacked and defensive. Not defenseless, apparently: Snell spoke at nearly two hours into the meeting, long after most of the crowd had gone home.

Snell seems to think that the three-minute public comment rule was a worthy starting point to blow off steam. It’s not. It is, as the character Hyman Roth said in The Godfather, Part II, “small potatoes.” On a scale of one to ten measuring district priorities, it’s a .05.

But because Snell apparently had no defense for the substance of the public speaker’s comments, she chose to harp on the fact that this person consistently speaks for longer than three minutes, as if it were disrupting the entire education system.

Snell could have chosen to answer the speaker’s arguments and frustrations, which are legitimate and numerous, but she didn’t. Better just to attack the speaker than to respond to the important issues that were raised.

Of course, she does not appreciate the sad irony of demanding respect on the one hand, while criticizing a frustrated taxpayer on the other.

Snell makes $450 a month plus her generous health care coverage? Guess how much Erica and Jeff Roberts have made during the countless hours they have been pushing for an end to Swun Math and demanding even a modicum of accountability from an indifferent administration? They have made less than zero – this fight is costing them some dollars, yes, but it is also costing them a more precious commodity: They have sacrificed precious time with their family because they believed that they are fighting for a worthy cause, which they are.

Other community members are sacrificing of themselves, too, Laurie Smith and Jen Brooks among them. They’re seeking respect just as Snell is, but their version of respect is something that the board and the administration has trouble delivering. To them respect means action. They are tired of talk and want action. People like the Roberts, Smith, and Brooks want the board to stop tip-toeing around the term limits issue and vote on it, one way or another. They want the board to stop the wheel-spinning on the CdM stadium and put a stake in the ground. They want an end to the endless legal fees paid for avoidable circumstances.

They want someone – anyone in a position of responsibility – to apologize to taxpayers for the colossal waste of money spent on the solar panel/baseball field/netting catastrophe. They want someone to be held accountable for the Mariners Gold Ribbon scandal – someone beyond ex-principal Laura Sacks, whose tenure is conveniently being scrubbed from district history.

They want someone to take ownership of these or any of the number of big mistakes they have made over the past several years.

But none of that will ever happen, and that is why the board and the administration are not respected by these people, and many others who are beginning to realize just how out of whack the whole process has become.

Snell doesn’t seem to understand that respect has to be earned. One of the fastest ways to earn respect is to be accountable for your actions.

Respect does not come because someone won an election. If that’s what Snell is looking for, then she should have thought harder before she ran again last year – a campaign in which, according to public records, she spent about $21,000 of family money to win. Odd, isn’t it? Spending that kind of money, then complaining about the low compensation?

Oh, and about term limits… I can’t speak for anyone else, but if Snell believes that the reason more people are pushing for term limits is simply because too many people have served on the school board club for too long, she is mistaken.

These people want term limits because they are tired of the superintendent du jour running the district with no accountability to the board. They want term limits because they are tired of the runner-stamping voting pattern – the same rubber-stamping that club member Yelsey complained about in her first campaign. They want term limits because they are tired of the low levels of transparency, accountability and fiscal responsibility.

In other words, they want term limits because they want more respect.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD

Whew! That Was Close!

When the Mariners Gold Ribbon scandal first broke, there was a coalition of teachers, parents, and community members who were outraged that such a thing could happen at such a good school.

In response, the school board club and the administration quickly went to work to do what they have always done in times of crisis: Arrange the smoke and mirrors to look and sound like they are taking action when in reality they are just putting out another brush fire.

There were meetings, statements, and even an investigation that took nearly a year to complete – all part of the stall, stifle, and stymie M.O.  – orchestrated by the superintendent – that has worked so well in the past. Once again, as we saw with John Caldecott’s dismissal, the fox was allowed to run the henhouse.

In the end, the principal took the fall for everything and resigned, that being the lesser of two bad options. The report and the scandal have not been mentioned at a school board club meeting by any of the trustees, preferring instead to let others get their hands dirty.

So, away goes the scandal, wiped clean from the school’s website and filed neatly with the prom draft, the CdM break-in, the Estancia pole debacle, and more, including the Swun Math controversy.

Except for one teensy detail – a permanent record filed with the Orange County Dept. of Education that will always be available for interested parties to see – a not-so-small footnote in what could have been an opportunity to show leadership but revealed instead the depths to which the school board club and the administration will go to protect their image.

That detail?… The superintendent signed the Gold Ribbon application for Mariners.

In the real world – the one in which most of operate where mistakes are answered to a greater or lesser degree with consequences – the superintendent would have been called upon to explain why he signed an application filled with 16 incidents of what the teacher union called “untruths and inaccuracies.”

The answer can be only one of four possibilities:

  1. He did not read the application and confirm the contents
  2. He read it and took everything as gospel
  3. He read it and knew it contained errors but signed it anyway
  4. He was forced to sign it

Pick one. Doesn’t matter which one you choose, they are all bad. But instead of being called before the board to explain why he signed the application, the school board chose to give him a raise and rate his performance as “exceptional.”

The scandal may be gone in the minds of most people in Newport-Mesa. But there is some solace in knowing that at least a few people know the truth and that the superintendent knows he did not fool all of the people this time.

Ranting and Raving

In the eight days since club member Vicki Snell told meeting attendees that she was being paid only about $400 a month (conveniently forgetting to mention her generous health insurance coverage) and did not appreciate criticism (my take), I have received numerous private messages from readers who are flat out appalled and disgusted (my words again) with Snell’s outburst, which was supported by applause from fellow club member Dana Black.

OK, so Snell can’t take the heat and should get out of the kitchen. But there’s more behind what she said.

About two weeks before Snell’s bad PR move, Oklahoma congressman Markwayne Mullin told his constituents at a town hall meeting that that the idea that they pay his salary is “bull****.”

“You say you pay for me to do this,” Mullin said. “Bull****. I pay for myself. I paid enough taxes before I got [to Congress] and continue to through my company to pay my own salary. This is a service. No one here pays me to go.”

These are two examples of the mindset of public servants who believe they are doing us a favor by occupying their posts. And because they feel under-compensated, they also feel justified in doing things the way they want which, in the case of the N-MUSD, is not always in the best interests of taxpayers.

These people need to find other things to do with their time. We need public servants who understand and emphasize the term “servants” – not people who believe we are grateful for their presence in whatever bureaucracy of which they are a part.

The 21st [C]entury Way

Activist and parent Erica Roberts finally received the internal documents she requested from the district – a stack of paper 8″ high.


Now combine that image with what occurs at every school board club meeting: The entire well-compensated cabinet sitting at their tables taking notes, not with a tablet or laptop, but with a pen and paper.

The district has been pushing for students to be competitive in the “global economy,” the “21st [C]entury economy” or whatever it is being called these days. But until the district starts walking the walk, it’s talk. Roberts’ documents should have been put on a thumb drive, which would have saved time, taxpayer dollars and part of a tree. Instead, they were handed over the old-fashioned way.

The cabinet is doing the same thing, month after month, laboriously writing and presumably transferring needed notes to a… computer. So, you ask, if some or all of those notes are going to be entered into a computer, doesn’t it make sense to be more efficient and enter them into a computer as they are being written?

Of course. But there you go again using that “logic” stuff.

And besides, they’re not being compensated enough for you to tell them what to do.

Steve Smith
N-MUSD Taxpayer

“Better to Stay Silent and…

… thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” – Abraham Lincoln

Work and travel have kept me from contributing to this blog and for that, I apologize. Even right now, I am facing yet another deadline and have little time to spare.

Much has been happening but I want to highlight one of the most outrageous board member reports I can ever recall.

These reports are almost always meaningless. Each board member tells the other board members about the ribbons they cut and the dog-and-pony shows they attended. They usually speak for longer than the three minutes the public is allowed, which is another blog post.

Last Tuesday, several members of the public spoke about the need for term limits for board members. When it came time for the board member reports, the first five trustees ignored term limits or anything else substantive. It was though they had not realized how important this was that night, or they did not care. Either way, it’s bad.

Then Vicki Snell spoke on the topic. Snell railed against the recent crop of activists who are making demands and sticking their noses where they don’t belong. And, oh, gee, they’re critical of the board and the administration.

Snell pointed out the time she puts in/they put in and the meager compensation and implied that we should all be grateful for her effort/their efforts. Dana Black was actually applauding this.

Here’s what for Snell, Black, and any other trustee who isn’t feeling the love: Too bad. No one put a gun to your head and forced you to be a trustee. You signed up for this (Snell and Black as recently as last November) and if you can’t take the heat get out of the kitchen.

Stop whining or resign. If you don’t like the money (Snell conveniently failed to mention her generous health care coverage), stop whining and start organizing an effort in Sacramento to change the rules and pay trustees a real wage. Stop whining and start listening: Those people you complained about are taxpayers and they deserve far more respect than you gave them two days ago. They’re trying to tell you something: They wouldn’t be demanding term limits if things were going well.

Thank you, Vicki Snell, for putting an exclamation point on why we need term limits.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD

Just So You Know

The decision by the school board club to proclaim the superintendent’s performance as “exceptional’ and shower him with more of your tax dollars despite a tenure filled with problems is not unique.

According to ESPN.com, “The New York Knicks and team president Phil Jackson reportedly picked up their mutual option for the final two years of [Jackson’s] contract.”

That’s fine, except for the fact that Jackson has a terrible won-lost record in New York at just 80-166. This season, the Knicks wound up only 31-51.

So you see, it’s not just the N-MUSD superintendent who seems to have convinced seven people that he is an exceptional leader – a professional basketball coach just did it, and for a lot more money.

The difference is that the N-MUSD superintendent is being paid with hard-earned tax dollars. And it’s hard to claim an “exceptional” performance when employee morale is so low, when so many projects have been mismanaged, and when one problem follows another.

Actually, I’d love to see Phil Jackson take over the superintendent spot here. He doesn’t need to know anything about education – one review of the list of squishy superintendent duties and responsibilities will show that.

But he will be expected to show hour high school teams how to perfect the full court press.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD