Another Website to Bookmark

John Caldecott was the district’s HR guru for ten years. So respected that other districts would reach out to him with questions or for advice.

Almost three years ago, he questioned some financial goings-on. A few months later, he was fired. His termination was not via a meeting in which someone tells you what’s going on and you have a chance to address any complaints against you. Nope.

Superintendent Frederick Navarro texted Caldecott and told him to check his e-mail. His inbox contained the termination notice. Nice.

After 10 years of loyal service with an exemplary work record, he was terminated by e-mail with no opportunity to address the board.

Since then, Caldecott has been very active, requesting information that the district does not want you to see, and explaining it to the rest of us.

I highly recommend that you read and bookmark his website:

https://www.caldecottinfo.com/

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD

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Setting an Example

I just read of another attempt by a Trustee to place the blame for the Estancia odors on the inspector(s) who signed off on the project. In this case it was Trustee Vicki Snell responding to writer/activist/producer Sandy Asper.

Snell wrote of the board’s “…commitment to investigate how the original work was signed off on by inspectors.” The work was signed off eight years ago.

This attempt at finger-point and blame-placing is both hypocritical and unproductive.

Hypocritical because they have not made similar attempts to hold anyone accountable for other problems, for example, the debacle that is Swun Math. Where is the commitment to investigating how this program got initiated? Who will be held accountable for the millions spent to fix it and, worse, the years of anguish and frustration of students, teachers, and parents? Anguish and frustration which, by the way was ignored by the district as they tried to sweep the mess under the rug.

The answer is that there will be no investigation and no one will be held accountable.

In the wake of the Estancia odors, we have one teacher out on Workers’ Comp, another who is suffering from asthma and headaches, and most likely a few more who are sick but have not yet connected the dots from their maladies to the odors.

This buck-passing is not the example to set for students. We cannot expect children in America to grow and be responsible leaders if we do not teach them when they are young to take responsibility for their mistakes.

In this case, the responsibility is with the trustees. They knew about the stink and either chose to do nothing, or relied on people who failed to fix it. It doesn’t matter – at the end of the day, the buck stops at the dais.

My work includes a lot of customer service training. These days, the lessons are taught almost exclusively to health care facilities across the country. One of the principles I preach is that when a patient brings a mistake to their attention, the first two words out of their mouth(s) should be, “I’m sorry…” Could be “I’m sorry this happened to you” “I’m sorry you are upset,” but it must start with “I’m sorry.”

The challenge is that doctors don’t like to say “I’m sorry,” even if they use it in a way that doesn’t admit guilt because they believe it invites lawsuits. Then I show them studies that the opposite is true; that saying “I’m sorry” actually reduces complaints and lawsuits. That’s how powerful those two little words are.

“I’m sorry” has the same effect whether the business is auto repair, plumbing, a restaurant, or a grocery store. Or a school district.

Saying “I’m sorry” fulfills the first overwhelming desire of the person who is complaining. What they want first and most is someone to accept responsibility for whatever happened. In almost all cases, that is enough.

“I’m sorry” would have gone a long way with Estancia teacher Steve Crenshaw at last Tuesday’s board meeting. Crenshaw got up and spoke about his health problems relating to the odors and when he was done, no one on the board said anything. Not a word.

I have not spoken to Crenshaw but I’d bet a fair amount that what he was looking for that night was for someone in the district – anyone – to acknowledge his pain and frustration. Any one of them could have said, “I’m sorry about your health problems,” or “I’m sorry that it has taken so long to fix the problem.” Anything. Throw him a bone.

But the board can’t do that because they take advice from attorneys and others who only know one way of operating. An attorney is unlikely to recommend saying “I’m sorry” because he or she went to law school and works in a legal environment and they are taught to make sure clients don’t say, “I’m sorry,” even if evidence shows that doing so is beneficial.

Someone in the district needs to step up immediately and own this by telling Steve Crenshaw they are sorry, in one form or another. Either they do this immediately or they forever refrain from any comment about how much they appreciate teachers in the district.

Several weeks ago, Trustees Snell and Fluor went on mini-rants about the lack of respect they receive. The thing about respect is that you have to earn it.

Where is the respect for Steve Crenshaw? It’s nowhere because they simply do not care about him or his health. If they did, they would have said something to him. All they really care about it what they have cared about for decades: Never admit a mistake, never apologize, and sweep everything under the rug as quickly as possible.

Is the board’s behavior the example we want to set for our children? Is the lack of remorse or accountability what each trustee would want if he or she had been the affected teacher at Estancia?

Of course not. But once again, preserving the status quo trumps everything else.

Even if it means the health of our teachers.

Steve Smith

N-MUSD Taxpayer

 

 


 



 






 


 



 


 


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Hello, It’s Me.

The past five weeks since the last post have been very busy, not so much with school issues, but with work and family. I want these posts to be meaningful and it’s sometimes hard to write that way after busy days. It’s quality over quantity.

Schools are back in session and there was a board meeting last night. The Board Meeting Brief (BMB), which is e-mailed prior to each board meeting, is a preview of what will be discussed. It is a voluntary act by the district and while it is better than no preview, it continues to fall short in a couple of key areas.

First, it is usually sent out the day before the meeting, which serves no purpose for anyone who sees something of interest and is considering attending. The BMB for last night’s meeting was sent 27 hours ahead of the start of the meeting. Meeting agendas are finalized long before that – or should be – and if the district were truly interested in increasing community participation and awareness, they would make more of an effort to issue the BMB sooner. Even if for some reason the agenda is only 90% complete three or four days prior, it is better to send a BMB based on that than to wait until the last minute.

That would be the community-focused thing to do, but the district has a lengthy track record of not really caring what the community thinks. This includes, among many examples, announcing special sessions at the very last minute, holding community forums and doing nothing with the input, and charging $32 for breakfast for the state-of-the-schools pep rally – a cost that many of Costa Mesa’s Westside parents cannot afford. (NOTE: The first pep rally was held at a time when most people would be working. The start time is now 7 a.m.)

The biggest example of rejecting outside input was the years of ignoring teacher and parent complaints about Swun Math. Despite repeated please to start a major overhaul or scrap the program altogether, the district did nothing. It was only until the buzz got so loud that they finally dumped it through grade five. Why are sixth graders still suffering with it has not been sufficiently explained.

This Stinks!

There’s another major instance of ignoring the community, too, which surfaced last night. Estancia High has been troubled by a foul smell for about eight years. My son, who graduated from the school in 2010, told me last night that it was present when he was a student.

Last night, there was an update on what the  district’s Facilities, Maintenance, & Operations Dept. has done while the superintendent and other bureaucrats were away. (The super is one of the top brass who is contracted to work only 224 days each year. Deputy Whatever Russell Lee-Sung is another and we’ll get to that shortly.)

The update included a presentation by the company hired to find and fix the source of the smell. What struck me about the remarks was the mention of the levels of noxious odors. It was positioned that these odors were not at harmful levels, as if anyone who has to smell the smells really cares. This positioning reminded me of the clear conflict of interest the district was in over some surveying a couple of years ago. When this was brought to the board’s attention, then-Deputy Whatever Paul Reed had the moxie to say that there was no “legal conflict of interest.” As if being legal mattered, too.

Tell all this to Steve Crenshaw, a teacher at Estancia, who told the board after the presentation that the odor has caused him severe asthma and migraines. Another teacher has filed for Workers’ Comp over the smell. Crenshaw had trouble getting through his remarks, which silenced the room. When he was done, not a single board member expressed any concern about him or his situation or the smell – no one said a word.

This foot-dragging is leading to yet another lawsuit. Wait for it.

When the stink discussion was winding down, Trustee Vicki Snell wanted to make sure that they find out who signed off on the faulty workmanship seven or eight years ago, as if holding that person accountable is going to accomplish anything.

If anyone is going to be held accountable, it should be Snell, who has been a trustee almost five years. Estancia is in her zone and she did nothing – or nothing effective – to end this years-long nightmare.

It’s more bungling, more botched handling of something that could have and should have been taken care of when it was first reported. Instead, we have an unpleasant campus, very sick people, and a lot of finger-pointing.

“Odorgate” is Swun Math all over again.

They’re Hooked. 

I did not come prepared to speak last night but did anyway after I noticed that a Navig8 update was on the agenda. I’ve written about Navig8 – the program that provides counseling for drug and alcohol abuse and dependency. The Navig8 program is the district’s shining star, IMO, and the best program running here. Navig8 is a tremendous effort to catch kids early and get them back on track and it’s particularly appealing because accountability is built into the process – accountability for students, teachers, and parents.

My brief remarks focused on teen cell phone addiction, which is a serious and growing national problem. I could go on and about the statistics and the damage done, but it is all summarized very well in this New York Times article:

I concluded my remarks with a request to consider adding treatment for cell phone addiction as part of the Navig8 program.

Adios.

By the time I was done, it was 8 p.m. and I had to leave. I had chicken taco soup in the crockpot and it was needing my attention. Yes, we ate a little late that night, but dinner got rave reviews.

So, I did not get to see the rubber-stamping of a gazillion projects and I did not get to see the rubber-stamping of a contract amendment for Deputy Poobah Russell Lee-Sung. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but I just can’t keep up with the titles in the district. Case in point: Lee-Sung’s title is being changed. He is currently the Associate Superintendent, Chief Academic Officer and from now on he will be the Deputy Superintendent, Chief Academic Officer.

Whatever.

What does it mean to you and me? Nothing – it’s just more re-arranging of the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Oh, there is one thing…. The amendment states that Lee-Sung will serve as acting super on the days the super is away. For that privilege, he will be paid, “… the difference between Dr. Navarro’s base salary and Mr. Lee-Sung’s base salary to compensate Mr. Lee-Sung for his additional duties and responsibilities as Acting Superintendent.”

Only in the public sector will you see a temporary pay spike like this. I was a VP with a national firm and occasionally assumed the duties of the president when he was away. No one thought to give me his salary temporarily and I didn’t ask. That’s not what we do in the private sector. But when it’s not your own money and you don’t have to show a profit or worry about where your budget is coming from you can act like a drunken sailor and give it away.

The board should have simply told Lee-Sung that when the super is away, he’s the acting super and left it at that. There was no need to throw more taxpayer dollars at him.

Area Boundaries

I also missed the discussion and vote on holding community input meetings to choose a new boundary map for the election of trustees by zone instead of at-large. Here is the DP story on what happened:

http://www.latimes.com/socal/daily-pilot/news/tn-dpt-me-nmusd-trustee-hearings-20170823-story.html

You should go to the meetings, but keep your expectations low.  According to the DP story, “During the hearings, residents will have the chance to address the board, but there will be no discussion between board members and speakers.”

There won’t be any discussion because, as I have been telling you for years, they don’t really care what you have to say.

Steve Smith
N-MUSD Taxpayer

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sheesh.

Eight thousand dollars doesn’t buy what it used to. That’s the cost – your money – for the new N-MUSD logo, the one that features multiple boomerangs. What boomerangs have to do with schools or learning, I don’t know.

Anyway…

Here’s the logo. (No, the super is not recovering from glaucoma surgery)Logo 2

And here’s the existing logo for “Plenti,” which is a rewards program that includes Rite-Aid, Macy’s, and more. This was sent to me by a reader:

Plenti Logo

 

It could be that the new logo was not properly screened for copyrighted or competing images.

When I present documents to a client, or a logo that has been created in collaboration with an artist, I write a creative rationale. It’s standard operating procedure in marketing and advertising to help the client understand what you did and why.

I attended the meeting at which they revealed the N-MUSD logo and did not hear any sufficient rationale for the boomerangs in the new logo.

Maybe the significance of the boomerangs in the N-MUSD logo is that sometimes things come back to us, and not in a good way.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD

 

Let’s Be Clear

Area representation is supposed to help increase ethnic diversity on the board. There are other benefits, but the whole thing came about because Costa Mesa is about one-third Latino and there has never been a Latino trustee.

Area representation is not likely to change that and I expressed this to the attorney who brought the case before the board. The real problem is that people cannot afford to take time off of work to be on the school board. If trustees were paid a living wage, you’d see a lot more people running. That change has to come from Sacramento and it’s unlikely that the needle will move anytime soon. Sacramento is another bureaucracy and just like the N-MUSD, they like things just the way they are, thank you very much.

Term limits, on the other hand, are put in place to prevent complacency and there is no better example of how we will benefit from term limits than the recent Swun Math debacle.

What we now know is that problems with Swun Math were apparent early on and despite numerous complaints up and down the chain of command, nothing was done, save for a tactical approach that was the equivalent of Whack-A-Mole: Every time some mistake was uncovered – and there were many – the district threw money and teachers at the problem.

What should have happened – and what is more likely to take place with term limits – is a summit meeting on the program in the early stages, what a former mentor would call a “Come to Jesus” meeting.

What happened instead was nothing. Inaction. Complacency. It was not until parents Erica and Jeff Roberts took up the cause that the serious discussions began. Swun Math will no longer be taught through the fifth grade.

And I disagree with anyone who tells me that sixth grade teachers either like Swun Math or are ambivalent about dumping it. Their dislike of the program is so intense that it recently spilled over into a public setting.

I’m keeping the details of that expression of dissatisfaction to myself out of concerns of retaliation against the teacher who chose to speak up. And that’s another problem. Suffice it to say that this teacher was not alone. Not by a long shot.

So why is Swun Math still in the sixth grade? Theories abound. But a logical review tells us that it makes no sense whatsoever. If the math program is so faulty that it had to be pulled for all other elementary grades, there is no sense whatsoever in retaining it for the sixth grade. Now imagine that you are 11 years old and entering the fifth grade in an N-MUSD school in September. You will not suffer through Swun Math. But unless something changes, a year from September, you will be right back where you started.

Is this in the best interests of students? No, of course not. But for some reason, all bets are off with regard to this math program. The trustees, who should have directed the superintendent to eliminate Swun Math from the sixth grade too, decided instead to sit on their hands.

It’s that complacency thing. Term limits won’t cure it, but they’ll help.

It’s Ba-ack

The Brown Act specifies that prior to holding a special meeting of the school board, 24 hours notice must provided to the public in certain ways.

There was a special meeting yesterday at 2:00, this one to hold an evaluation of the superintendent. The public announcement came at precisely 2:00 on Wednesday, exactly 24 hours prior to the meeting.

I showed up yesterday to protest and reminded the trustees that it was just four months ago that I showed up to protest last minute notices. I told them that this offers the impression that they do not want people to know about the meeting.

In his/their defense, the superintendent offered that the special meetings following our March exchange were held with more notice. That is true of those two meetings. But the suspicion that there was a deliberate attempt to conceal the superintendent’s evaluation is not mine alone.

I was given an explanation and I made a suggestion as to how to avoid future short notices. Do I expect anything to change? No.

At the end of my remarks I told the board that the Brown Act tells them what they must do, it does not tell them what they should do.

Here’s the link to the video: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B970gGj7tc18Y3I3TkhJeVcyZ1U/view

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD

The Good, the Bad, and the (Very) Ugly

Tuesday’s school board club was sparsely attended. Not unusual.

What was unusual was witnessing an exceptional presentation by a member of the administration. It was so good that it should be used as a model for everyone else.

Here’s the background…

The district has a “Student and Community Services Department” that provides essential non-academic support to students. This support includes comprehensive mental health services that provide counseling and intervention to troubled kids.

The presentation by the department’s director, Phil D’Agostino, revealed a program for suicide prevention. This is in response to AB 2246, a bill that, “…would require the governing board or body of a local educational agency, as defined, that serves pupils in grades 7 to 12, inclusive, to, before the beginning of the 2017–18 school year, adopt a policy on pupil suicide prevention, as specified, that specifically addresses the needs of high-risk groups.”

D’Agostino’s PowerPoint slides were properly formatted, proofed, visually inviting, and his explanation of the program provided more than enough justification for supporting this endeavor.

D’Agostino used the term “best practices” to describe the program’s development, which means that they are not experimenting – they are using what has worked elsewhere in similar situations and adapting it to the N-MUSD. Wow.

He also clearly articulated the connection between addiction, mental health, and suicide, and provided case studies to help everyone understand the gravity of the situation in our schools. D’Agostino reminded us that in times of crisis, one of the first people troubled kids turn to are teachers.

But there is more, and you need to be sitting down before you read this…. D’Agostino also said that the department would “Hold people accountable to make sure [program strategies] gets done.”

Yes, you read it correctly. For the first time I can ever recall, a district official actually expressed the concept of accountability.

The N-MUSD’s Student and Community Services Department and its intervention programs are a tremendous asset to everyone in Newport-Beach and Costa Mesa. It is, IMO, the crown jewel of the district.

That’s the good. The bad is that although there were some queries and comments from a few club members, no one thought to ask the most important question. No one thought or bothered to ask, “How will you measure success?”

The ugly happened on a different topic. Money man Jeff Trader explained the 2017-18 budget and did an excellent job. (For now, we are in the black.) It was so good, in fact, that he received more praise, some of it from club president Karen Yelsey.

It was apparent to everyone in the room that we have an extremely capable replacement for former money man Paul Reed, perhaps even more capable because Trader takes a more businesslike approach to his work and does not offer the unprofessional remarks and slides that were a hallmark of Reed’s tenure.

But it was ugly because it was a reminder that this panel authorized a lot of your money to pay Reed not to retire, believing that he was indispensable. When he finally retired, though, finding his replacement was easy.

To what office do we go to get our money back?

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD

 

 

 

 

Watch This Video. Plus Recap Coming.

There was a sparsely attended school board club meeting last night, complete with the good, the bad, and the ugly. Recap coming up shortly.

In the meantime, I urge you to watch this video expertly shot and edited by Costa Mesa Brief. It is a panel of 7 concerned citizens, including yours truly, fielding questions from moderator Sandy Asper, who did an outstanding job asking the right questions and keeping us focused.

The video is in response to a school board that looks at every challenge, every scandal, as a brush fire that needs water, or as something to ignore and it will simply go away. Lately, however, the controversies are greater in number and more frequent, which has activated a call for term limits. Once again, unfortunately, the board sees term limits only as another fire.

The board fails to see that term limits are not the problem, they are a symptom. If things were going well, there would not be a growing movement to initiate term limits. Here’s the link:

Make Up Your Mind

You know that you can’t have it both ways. I know it, too. But this simple concept seems to have escaped the N-MUSD, which has just gone on record as having it both ways.

In last Tuesday’s 10-minute recap of the history of N-MUSD elections, school board club member Martha Fluor denounced those who had the audacity to speak up about the many problems in our schools, but who chose not to run for a seat on the board.

Fluor repeatedly asked, “Where were YOU?” as if running for a seat on the school board is the only way to become a change agent in the district. Tell that to Erica and Jeff Roberts, Laurie Smith, Jen Brooks, and the many other parents, teachers, and just plain ol’ taxpayers who successfully lobbied to end the math program.

They did what the administration and the school board club could not or would not do a few years ago, without campaigning.

Interesting, isn’t it, how it has taken Fluor decades to complain about the lack of opponents? She never complained about it all those years she ran unopposed, nor did any of her colleagues. They liked it, and Fluor should be honest about this and admit it. Having no opposition makes their lives much easier and give them the perception that they are doing such a good job that there is no need for anyone else to run. A nice ego boost.

So why now? Why, after all this time is Fluor suddenly so concerned about the lack of challengers?

The answer is that term limits are now a distinct possibility. Term limits are an attack on the status quo and as an entrenched bureaucracy, the school board club will go all out to fight.

But there is a major flaw in Fluor’s presentation, one that was highlighted by the superintendent, who unwittingly made the case for term limits when it was his turn to speak. Here’s the link to a video of the meeting. The super’s comment start around 3:35:00: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B970gGj7tc18OE41OE1aMzRJVE0/view

Shortly after Fluor complained that far too few people run for school board seats, the superintendent said, “The reason that many school boards choose not to do term limits is that they can’t find people to run.”

This is an attempt at cause and effect. Enact term limits and you’ll find that too few people will want to run.

But hold on here… The district does not have term limits now and according to Fluor, too few people run. So, which is it?

The answer is neither. As we know from our own district, term limits are NOT the reason too few people choose to run for school board seats.

There are two reasons that more people do not run for seats on the school board, reasons that can be applied to nearly every school district in the state. The first is that the pool of interested citizens is considerably smaller than those who would run for, say, a city council position. School board candidates are usually limited to those who are already involved in schools, often because they have kids who are students. People who do not have kids in schools don’t pay much attention to what is going on the the district unless there is a scandal.

The other, more important reason that more people do not run is because they can’t afford it. A board position pays about $450 plus health care. Most people work and earn far more than that and the “salary” for a school board seat would be a hardship. This is the reason why I have made multiple recommendations to change the compensation rules.

The low compensation is such a barrier that the school board club needn’t worry about any major change in their structure due to term limits or area representation. Future candidates will probably be clones. And they like it that way: Do you see anyone pounding their shoe on the dais demanding a living wage so that working class people can afford to run?

No, you don’t.

It may be a good idea for the superintendent and Fluor to have a short meeting and get the message straight. On second thought, it doesn’t matter: Enacting term limits won’t change who runs or how often.

And that will suit the board just fine, despite Fluor’s complaints to the contrary.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD

 

 

 

Where Were YOU?

That’s what school board club member Martha Fluor wants to know. Channeling her inner Vicki Snell, Fluor wasn’t feeling the love and wondered last night where were you when she ran unopposed all those times and sacrificed birthdays, anniversaries, and other personal events to devote herself to improving education for the students in the district and how dare you bring your term limits stuff here when I’ve been working so hard for you for so long.

In an effort to combat the growing sentiment toward establishing term limits, she wondered for about 10 minutes, providing a 20-year history of each election, focusing mostly on the school board members who ran unopposed. It was as furious a commentary as I’ve ever seen on the dais.

But it fell on deaf ears. Those remaining in the audience who are not employed by the school district had little sympathy for Fluor, just as they had little sympathy for Snell when she channeled her inner Rodney Dangerfield and told us back in April how she don’t get no respect.

Three club members made it clear that they support term limits. Snell and Charlene Metoyer are OK with 12 years. Karen Yelsey would like to see term limits of 16 years, despite advocating 12 year term limits when she first ran for office 11 years ago. So, do the math: Yelsey supported term limits of 12 years, minus the eleven years she has been in office – two minus one… – and, OMG! she is up for re-election next year. Yes, 16 years would suit her just fine.

Back to Fluor. The rant was interesting from a psychological or sociological perspective, but it had little to do with the value or point of term limits. The school board club’s inability to connect the dots is astounding. Seven otherwise intelligent people who simply cannot understand or appreciate why all of this is happening at this time.

And after all of that, Fluor said, “I’m OK with term limits, but somebody has to show up.” [somebody has to run for office]

So, in the end, that rant was just a way for her to let off some steam.

“Why now” is the question they should be asking, individually or collectively. They will be unable to answer it themselves – the forest for the trees thing – so they need to ask some of the people who pushing hard for term limits. They should seek out these people and have an honest discussion not about whether term limits are good or bad, which was the focus last night, but “why now?” Why not ten years ago, or even five? Why now? I’m happy to have that thoughtful discussion with any club member or anyone else in the administration.

Term limits are not about Martha Fluor, or Vicki Snell or any of the other club members. OK, you’re a nice person who devotes a lot of time and whatever. Great. Thank you. Despite all that, we still want term limits.

Why now?

She’s Ba-ack

One of the highlights for me was the return of former Trustee Wendy Leece, who last served over ten years ago. Under the new “Roberts Rules” of speaking at the club meetings, Leece offered her thoughts on three separate occasions, eclipsed, I believe, only by N-MFT president Britt Dowdy, who strode to the podium four times.

Here’s another history lesson. Leece served for eight years, which is what she now advocates for term limits. During that time, her trustee colleagues treated her with disdain and disrespect, going as far as to pass over her for board president when it would have been the traditional time for her to serve.

They didn’t like Leece because she held views that were not in sync with the rest of the board. They did not like Leece because she did her homework and came prepared to meetings and had the audacity to question staff presentations. I distinctly recall one of her colleagues rolling her eyes at the start of yet another Leece question.

When Leece was on the board, 6-1 votes were common.

Leece made the meetings run longer that 90 or so minutes and they didn’t like that, either. (Note to Yelsey: Your new speaking format? It’s making your meetings run longer, not shorter. But that’s what you get when you enact rules to punish one person instead of thinking about the greater good.)

When Leece speaks, there is credibility, regardless of whether you agree with her, and I did not agree with her on a few key issues, notably the tax generated by the first bond floated in 2000.

I respect Leece because she worked hard, communicated well, and was not looking for anyone to pin a medal on her.

Butt out

In an apparent effort to deep-six the whole term limits idea, the superintendent spoke on the subject, offering that term limits would not do anything to promote diversity on the board.

Another one who doesn’t get it.

Connect the dots, again. Let’s see, the board has just responded to a threatened lawsuit by switching to area representation. Now, the public is overwhelmingly supporting term limits.

Why now?

Connect the dots.

Unsolicited advice to the superintendent: Stay quiet on the issue.

Bits and pieces

  • Due to the number of people wanting to speak on term limits, the allotted time per person was cut to two minutes. During one of the club member ramblings, more than one person in the audience yelled, “Two minutes!”
  • Charlene Metoyer and Vicki Snell committed to serving no more than 12 years. Don’t take that to the bank – Yelsey wanted 12 years, too.
  • Snell downplayed the recent survey in which 95% of the respondents supported term limits. Snell said, “I don’t like surveys.” A short time later, the district’s attorney recommended a survey.
  • The attorney was there for hours. If he is a partner, he makes $265 an hour. If he’s an associate, he makes $225 an hour. When he got up to speak on term limits, he read some background information that anyone could have downloaded from the Internet. Later on, he provided some important clarity, but that took less than five minutes. But you paid big bucks for those few moments.
  • Why did he need to be there? Didn’t anyone think about saving hundreds of tax dollars by patching him in remotely when he was needed for those few minutes instead of paying him to sit and wait? That technology is ancient and it could have and should have been used last night. But then, save for money man Jeff Trader, all of the cabinet is still taking notes by hand.
  • When speakers were limited to two minutes a surprising number used far less. A few went over a bit and club president Yelsey allowed them a few more seconds to finish, as she should have. Well, except for one speaker. The moment that time was up – at 121 seconds – Yelsey asked speaker Erica Roberts to stop. That’s what Roberts gets for having the audacity to force the district to change its elementary math program.

Petty is as petty does.

Dollars and Sense

Speaking of money and Mr. Trader… Last night, the 2017-18 budget was presented. It’s a thick book that details where the money comes from (you) and where it goes. In his executive summary, Trader wrote, “With all of it considered, I’m pleased to reiterate Mr. Paul Reed’s mantra that we are ‘solvent and moving forward.'”

Trader also got praise heaped on him for his assistance in the development of the Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP).

Apparently, Trader is doing a good job. So, why, you may be asking, did the board pay former finance guy Reed a lot of your money so he wouldn’t retire? Good question. The answer is term limits.

Past performance is… you know the rest

True to form, every vote last night was 7-0. And after all that discussion, there was no decision on term limits.

That’s in keeping with what I recently wrote about making sure that the district gets credit for any new idea, innovation, or policy change.

Term limits were not on the agenda last night because the school board club woke up last week and thought, “Gosh! We should be discussing term limits!” No, the subject was on the agenda because people demanded it.

The school board club doesn’t like that. They don’t like to be told what to do and would rather put some distance between uproar and action so that the change seems like it was their idea. We just saw it with the elementary math program and we’re seeing it again with term limits.

But term limits are not a math program. Term limits would mean a fundamental change in the status quo and this bureaucracy works very hard to keep things just the way they are, thank you very much.

So don’t look for any epiphany or moment of clarity on term limits. If term limits do make the ballot, the club will take their ball and go home by making them 16 years instead of 12 or 8.

Outta here

I left the meeting at 9:45 when the club member comments began. Not only did I not want to hear about all the wonderful and exciting things the club members have seen and done in the three weeks since they told us about the last batch of wonderful and exciting things, I could not stomach the thought of listening to more than two minutes of it, which is what was allotted to term limits speakers last night.

Trustees: Walk your talk. Limit your comments to three minutes. Two would be even better.

My answer to Martha Fluor

Mrs. Fluor, here’s where I have been: For over 15 years, I have been writing about and attending school board meetings. I ran for a seat on the school board in 2014, spent about $4,000 and got 33% of the vote.

I have been writing this blog for three years and have made countless recommendations for improvement, some of which, I have been told, have been quietly implemented.

I have a full work schedule. I manage a 4-bedroom home, commit time to the city (just applied for a another committee position), and have made myself available to meet with anyone at anytime if it will help the city or the district.

I have NEVER expected anything in return – not money, praise, or even a “thank you.” I do it because it’s the example I want to set for my kids, because I want to help those less fortunate, and because it’s just the right thing to do.

When you first ran for office, all you wanted was to do the right thing, too. I truly believe that. But lately, the seat is getting hotter. Things are changing, and some of those things are not in your control. It’s frustrating – I get that.

But at the end of the day, it’s not about what we want or why we’re doing this. We serve others, and glady. And if there comes a time when we see events moving faster than we can keep up, that’s the time to step aside.

This is not a resignation request. It’s just a way, hopefully, to get you to understand that more than ever, your experience and expertise are needed to help guide the district to the next phase in its development.

We don’t need that Martha Fluor that showed up last night. We need the Martha Fluor who is the only current board member who ever asks critical questions or consistently provides worthy perspectives that are valuable to the decision-making process; the Martha Fluor who has earned a reputation as a devoted and concerned public servant.

We need the help of that Martha Fluor now, more than ever.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD

And Another Thing!

There is much supporting evidence for the district’s double-talk about wanting community input, the latest being the restrictions on the amount of public comments. (They also voted to end meetings no later than 10:30 p.m. instead of 11. As if.  That new rule made me laugh so loud I think I scared the cat. I haven’t attended a meeting that lasted until even 10 in I can’t remember when.)

The oppressed administration and the overburdened trustees can’t understand why people are getting restless and are starting to demand term limits. But it’s really as simple as keeping your word. Don’t, for example, say you value community input if you don’t. (And they don’t, despite their claims to the contrary)

It occurred to me today that when a principal is removed, there is usually some phony input meeting in which the district folks want to get your input on the replacement. At these meetings, they look very interested in what you have to say and they take notes and act concerned. That’s what they do after they’ve yanked a principal out of one school – usually a place where he or she is appreciated – and placed him or her in another.

But if the district is so concerned about the feelings of the community and getting input, shouldn’t they be reaching out to us before a principal is removed? After all, what would the parents and teachers at Davis or College Park have said had they been asked, “Should we move [principal] to [school] and find someone else to take over here?”

Stacy de Boom-Howard works for the district but she is the former principal at Paularino Elementary School and by all accounts she was doing a good job.. Was there any input meeting on whether she should be allowed to leave? Nope.

They don’t ask because they don’t care. They don’t ask because they don’t want you involved in “their” business, even though you’re paying for everything.

Of course, we all know that they can’t ask before because would open up a new can of worms and they have so many cans open now that Bear St. is starting to look like a bait shop.

Steve Smith
N-MUSD Taxpayer