City inspects spending

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a two-part series on a city-district agreement.

Costa Mesa officials, unhappy with how the Newport-Mesa Unified School District is spending city money, are calling for a meeting to discuss an eight-year agreement involving facilities use.

City officials say the district is using 75% to 80% of $170,000 in city money on its janitorial needs, when the money is supposed to be spent on maintaining playing fields. The meeting is expected to take place within the next four weeks.

Under the joint-use agreement, the city may use the district’s playing fields to hold community sporting events, including football, adult soccer and Little League baseball. Community groups also use the restrooms at district facilities when they are open for public use on weekends and on weekdays during after-school hours.

In exchange, the city pays $170,000 a year to Newport-Mesa Unified for field maintenance. According to the terms of the agreement, the district must use the money to keep the fields in at least “fair” condition, which requires seeding the fields, fertilizing and aerating them. Under the deal, the district may also use the money toward janitorial needs.

But, city officials say, there’s a gap between what the city expected and how the district is using the money.

“Schools see their grass area as part of the playground, not as an activities field,” said Lisa McPherson, Costa Mesa’s recreation supervisor. “What we are paying for is to keep that grass area up to the standard the school district needs it to be.”

Instead, for the past two years, the district has been spending at least three-quarters of the money provided by Costa Mesa on janitorial needs, said Peter Naghavi, Costa Mesa director of public services.

The city assumed that most of the money would be spent on improving the fields and keeping them in good shape, Naghavi said.

“We feel the intention of the agreement was to provide a better-conditioned playing field for the community,” he said. “If the majority of the money the city pays went to field improvement, the fields would be in much better shape.”

But Tim Marsh, Newport-Mesa’s administrative director for facility support services, defended the district’s use of the money.

“The $170,000 offset the damage caused by the community use,” he said.

The issue is how clean the district needs to keep the fields and facility bathrooms after community use.

Marsh said that for each dollar the city pays, the district pays two.

But he didn’t immediately have a breakdown on how the district has spent the city money.

The agreement doesn’t state how much of the $170,000 should be used to pay for the custodial services and how much should be used for maintenance.

As staff and user groups change, different interpretations of the agreement arise, Costa Mesa City Manager Allan Roeder said.

The agreement, which was struck in 2002, has been changed many times throughout the years, Roeder said. And from the looks of it, he said, that might happen again.

“There’s some disconnect in terms of what we as the city were attempting to accomplish with it and how the district is actually utilizing it,” Roeder said.

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