City Life: Foley stands alone in doing what's right

In last week's column about the enhancements to Newport-Mesa Unified Supt. Jeffrey Hubbard's contract prior to its original four-year termination date, I referred to the school board as the group responsible for approving Hubbard's contract details ("City Life: School board enhanced Hubbard's compensation mid-contract," Nov. 23).

I should have excluded Katrina Foley, who was elected to the school board only a year ago and has had no involvement in awarding Hubbard any of his contract extensions or any other additional compensation. Foley was the only board member who fought against the paid administrative leave Hubbard received last January.

In her first school board meeting, Foley questioned whether two contracts set for extension should be reopened and reexamined. Later, Foley, an attorney, recommended a review of the manner in which district's legal services are billed in order to save taxpayers a lot of money. Amazingly, her colleagues resisted this review.

Over the past year, Foley has been the "1" on several 6-1 board decisions.

Foley has become the new Wendy Leece, the board member who dares to question the status quo. But the comparison ends there.

Unlike Leece, Foley has no reputation as a religious extremist — a reputation Leece's school board colleagues were content to let simmer so it could justify their shabby treatment of her. As with Leece, who is now on the Costa Mesa City Council, there will be attempts to cast Foley as someone who must be wrong simply because she doesn't agree with the rest of the crowd.

Instead, Foley is appealing to a bigger, more important crowd. This other crowd — parents, teachers, classified employees and students — sees the contradiction in awarding Hubbard paid administrative leave while kids go without science camp. They see incentives being awarded and contracts enhanced while the salaries of teachers and classified employees remain stagnant and benefit participation rises.

The parents see their hard-earned tax money being spent as though it grows on the proverbial tree. This other crowd also happens to hold the voters who will decide on the open board positions next year.

Contrary to what some may want you to believe, there are Foleys in other districts. The best recent example is in Beverly Hills, where Hubbard was superintendent for three years before coming to Newport-Mesa.

Brian Goldberg, the Foley there, has credited school board turnover for the strength it took to help bring charges against Hubbard and his former colleague Karen Anne Christiansen, who was convicted Nov. 21 of conflict-of-interest charges ("Ex-Beverly Hills school official convicted," Los Angeles Times).

"Without this board majority's courage and resolve," Goldberg wrote in his November school district message, "the mismanagement and clear conflict of interest would have been swept under the rug and our community would have continued to be taken advantage of by former staff members, consultants, and contractors who benefited from this public corruption."

You are outraged. I see it online and I see it in the private emails you send me.

The last time there was this level of indignation in Newport-Mesa was 1992, when we were the victim of the state's largest school district embezzlement after Steven Wagner stole about $3 million. Wagner got away with his crime for as long as he did due to lax oversight.

The revelation led to hundreds of parents protesting at board meetings, hundreds more signing petitions to stop the new contract for then-Supervisor John Nicoll, and even talk of a recall of the entire board.

But your outrage is not enough. Six of the seven members of this school board are counting on history to repeat itself. They are counting on you to forget all this Hubbard nonsense by the next election, just as you've forgotten about Wagner.

In the meantime, they will say as little as possible about the whole affair, just as they have decided to do with the recent overwhelming teachers union vote of no confidence in Hubbard.

After Christiansen's conviction, Goldberg wrote, "It is my goal to close this sad chapter in our district's history and ensure that the culture that allowed this to occur has changed. The role of an effective board member is to provide oversight, accountability and transparency; board members cannot effectively serve by simply rubber stamping items that are presented to them."

If you don't express your ire directly to the school board on the phone, via email or, best, in person, you can expect more of the culture you're seeing today. The next school board meeting is at 7 p.m. Dec. 13 at district headquarters at 2985 Bear St. in Costa Mesa.

STEVE SMITH is a Costa Mesa resident and a freelance writer. Send story ideas to smi161@aol.com.

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