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It matters greatly who serves on the school board

It matters greatly who serves on the school board
Then-Councilwoman Wendy Leece smiles while listening to a public comments during a Costa Mesa City Council meeting in 2014. Leece is no longer a member of the council. (File photo)

Our Newport-Mesa Unified School District community is getting ready for the first time to vote for school trustees by district. There are seven districts covering Newport Beach and Costa Mesa. Voters in four of the districts will vote this year, and in 2020, three trustees will be elected in the other three districts.

Confusing, I know. Add on City Council, sanitary and water districts, and we’ll all be crazy by Nov. 6, ready for an end to political campaigns.

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But today, this is about our Newport-Mesa schools and why I still believe every citizen should pay attention to who’s on our school board. And that includes those of us who pay taxes, but who don’t have kids in school, and many of my friends who send their kids to other schools.

Listen up.

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The strength of the future of our community is in our local neighborhood schools. That’s about 22,000 children we’re educating with our tax dollars. Trustees manage a $300 million budget.

This election by districts is extremely important. Most people continue to vote for incumbents or don’t pay attention to new candidates. But it’s past time for some fresh blood and there are new candidates in all four districts.

There are two forums where citizens can hear candidates’ platforms: Newport-Mesa Community for Students “Toes to the Stove” forum at 6 p.m. Oct. 1 at Fairview Community Church, 2525 Fairview Road in Costa Mesa, and the Harbor Council PTA and the League of Women Voters of Orange Coast forum at 6 p.m. Oct. 10 at Harper Assessment Center, 425 E. 18th St., Costa Mesa.

Absentee voting starts Oct. 8.

Our NMUSD schools are hubs for educating our community’s future. Not everyone has the option of sending their kids to other schools. Our neighborhoods and cities are stronger when our kids stay in our schools. It matters greatly who serves on the school board.

Over the years there has been a quiet exodus by parents to private schools and other districts. Why? Parents don’t want to fight the system. It takes too much time and energy, and it’s difficult to figure out where to start.

Parents just want what’s best for their kids. It’s a lot easier to drive your kids to another school or home school them. But when these parents leave, that little neighborhood school, junior high or high school loses that family’s active engagement in the school through the PTA, sports or in the classroom.

Because our district is “basic aid” and mostly funded by our tax dollars, and not by the state’s per child formula, our school officials don’t really care if parents leave because it means more money for the rest of the kids who stay. Once parents abandon the neighborhood school, they are less compelled to be involved in what’s happening in the classrooms or at the district level.

As a teacher and Westsider for 46 years, I have always cared about the quality of our Westside schools. I’ve been involved since my eldest son started with dear Ms. Laura Finch at Victoria School pre-K in 1977. Victoria closed, and we decided to send our kids to a Santa Ana Christian school.

Friends encouraged me to run for school board in 1989. I lost, but then people urged me to try again in 1994, when I defeated an incumbent, Rod McMillian. I was a trustee for two, four-year terms and defeated in 2002 by my good friend Tom Egan.

I gave my best for eight years, and I was ready to leave.

Currently, there are no term limits for trustees, but it’s time. When your term is limited, you work harder to accomplish your goals, and everyone benefits.

You can find the NMUSD website and to find which NMUSD district you live in or call the Registrar of Voters.

Election Day is Nov. 6. Take the time to know all of the school board candidates. The future of Newport-Mesa depends on your vote.

Costa Mesa resident Wendy Leece is a member of Newport-Mesa Community for Students, a former school board member and a former City Council member. She teaches part-time at College Hospital.

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