City Life: Why I harp on school board

Over the last few months, I have received dozens of responses to the series of columns regarding the school board and school district policies. All but one has been positive. Based on those, it is time to pause for some clarification.

My approach to school board issues is not personal. I am neither friends with nor do I have any personal dislike for any of the members. I have avoided name-calling and any personal references so that I can stick to the facts.

I report only those facts that can be verified either through reliable online sources, such as the California Department of Education website, through a spokesperson for such a group, through public records or through eyewitness accounts.

Sometimes, I go on snipe hunts.

I was told that some of the employees who worked on the federal holiday were receiving extra pay as a result. If true, that meant that the scheduling error was more than just clerical, it was also expensive. That was false.

I will not include hearsay — something someone heard someone else say — because it is not reliable.

When I criticize the school board, or any other public entity, I try to include a viable recommendation.

"Viable" is a key word here, for it is easy to just say, "The school board should improve the three failing Costa Mesa elementary schools."

It is constructive to state that the schools need improvement and then provide a solution that can be implemented without undue strain. For those three schools, Wilson, Whittier and Pomona, I wrote that district representatives should visit Plummer Elementary in Los Angeles, which has similar demographics but is a high-achieving school. I have also recommended that if the board is unable or unwilling to improve these schools, it should let someone else try.

After I reviewed Supt. Jeffrey Hubbard's travel expenses, I recommended that the district develop a written travel policy so that there is no misunderstanding about what behavior is acceptable and what is not. There are plenty of travel policies in the private sector from which to copy.

When I objected to the use of taxpayer dollars for travel to conferences at a time when science camp money is short and basic supplies are needed, I recommended that the board approach the California School Boards Assn. about holding online meetings and seminars instead of attending expensive live conferences.

I also recommended that after each conference a written summary should be prepared detailing who went, what was learned and how it will be used to improve the education of our children. That is an exercise in accountability that taxpayers deserve.

When I wrote that excessive curriculum is hindering education, not helping it, I recommended that the school board organize other boards to send a message to Sacramento that the curriculum is a burden.

And when I offered that school board President Dave Brooks was wasting his time observing Hubbard's trial in Los Angeles, I suggested that instead he should travel about 30 more minutes to visit Plummer.

As to my motives, it's simple. I am ferocious about the judicious use of our tax dollars.

Every paper clip, every staple, every pencil being used by anyone in the district was paid for by people who worked for the money to buy them and they deserve a strict accounting of every dollar.

Naturally, this does not include the supplies paid for by teachers out of their own pocket, which happens every semester. When I see waste in the district, I see kids who go without science camp or supplies or perhaps even teachers who go without adequate compensation.

The other motivator is the kids. Until they graduate, the students in our schools are at the mercy of adults who decide what, when and how they will learn. There are very few responsibilities in life that are more important than this, which is why I place such a high value on our teachers. When I see complacency or indifference to this responsibility, I will point it out, as I have with the three elementary schools.

Finally, readers, I appreciate the support you have expressed, but here is another fact: We get the government we deserve and the school board we have is the one we deserve.

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

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