City Life: School board needs to reread 'A Christmas Carol'

In a foreboding first message as your new school board president, David Brooks did his best Ebenezer Scrooge "Bah! Humbug!" impersonation by saying, "We don't need critics" who are "bad-mouthing schools."

So to the many educators and others who have emailed me privately with your outrage, and to those who appear before the board to complain, Brooks would like you to put that coal back in the scuttle and get back to work.

Teachers, you'll get back to work on Jan. 2, while the rest of the country observes a federal holiday. Apparently, a federal holiday is a poor excuse for picking the school board's pocket this new year.

Brooks started his lengthy, rambling monologue by telling attendees that he took "several pages of notes" during the keynote speech at the recent annual meeting of the California School Board Assn. (CSBA) meeting in San Diego. That's the meeting where they sent 11 people and budgeted almost $20,000; Laguna Beach and Beverly Hills sent no representatives, and Irvine sent three.

Brooks wants you to know that it is important to start "recognizing the good things the schools are doing," saying, "We need to get the good word out there."

During Brooks' speech, I had a visit from the ghost of Daily Pilot editors past who showed me a news story from 1999 that reported that board member Dana Black was "starting a crusade to stop what she sees as a war against public education."

As in fashion, sooner or later everything in education comes back around.

"There's so many positive things going on in public education," Black is quoted as saying. "I want to show the good."

Brooks also said, "Yes, there are areas that need to be improved" and "We can't do it alone," in what sounded like a campaign speech, as it was long on generalities and short on specifics.

Brooks did not say which areas need improvement, or what type of help the board needs, but he did make it clear that he doesn't want your help identifying where they are failing.

Other board members commented on the recent CSBA conference. Judy Franco channeled Jacob Marley and attempted to stifle criticism by letting us know that this conference, at almost $7,000 per day, was an opportunity to "learn something new" and quoted board member Karen Yelsey as saying that the conference was also an opportunity to "validate what we are doing."

Perhaps she meant it also validated what they were doing wrong.

Trustee Walt Davenport said the conference was "the best one I've been to."


Well then, perhaps Davenport would like to capitalize on his excitement by generating a written report on the conference for all of us to read, as I recommended here last week. That will tell taxpayers in detail how the conference will help raise the grades and test scores at Pomona, Whittier and Wilson elementary schools, all of which are performing far below comparable schools in the state.

And he can tell the hardworking, dedicated teachers there exactly what instructional improvements he will be presenting to them in the next few weeks to assist them in their goals.

Davenport won't do that because he can't. These conferences are like steam, that is, there is a tremendous, feel-good burst of energy, then it quickly disappears once you get back home to reality.

He won't do it because strict accountability is foreign to all of the board members except for Katrina Foley, who is the closest thing we have to Tiny Tim. Left unsupported, she will not make the progress we need, and we'll be left only with her dais nameplate carefully preserved in the corner.

As far as Franco learning anything new, the conference may have been worth the outrageous expense, even if she learned only that such meetings are an extravagance when teachers have to ask for donations for basic supplies, including pencils.

Perhaps the board minus Foley prefers that each critic should be boiled in his own Elmer's school glue and buried with a Ticonderoga pencil through his heart, but I say, "God bless us, every one."

STEVE SMITH is a Costa Mesa resident and a freelance writer. Send story ideas to

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World