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Letters to the Editor: School board critic’s letter is filled with misstatements about my record

Karen Yelsey, trustee area 4 candidate, speaks during a Newport-Mesa Unified School District board c
Karen Yelsey, a candidate for trustee area 4, speaks during a Newport-Mesa Unified School District board candidates forum presented by the Newport Beach Women’s Democratic Club at Oasis Senior Center in Corona del Mar on Tuesday, Sept. 18.
(Photo by Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

During my tenure as a Newport-Mesa school board trustee, I have rarely taken the time to respond to critics in the media, preferring to meet with people personally. However, when the truth is not part of what is published, there is no choice but to call it out.

Now, I feel compelled to respond a third time to Steve Smith, in this case to his letter to the editor (“Gina Nick is the better choice in Newport-Mesa Area 4”) dated Oct. 1, where falsehoods abound. I will refute his major false statements (there are too many to go through the whole list), and let our readers decide how to vote.

Smith: “Yelsey has little credibility …”

The truth: First, how does one disprove a smear? But more than that, during my entire adult life, Smith is the only person who has ever questioned my truthfulness and honesty. My fellow trustees and more importantly, community parents who know me, will all testify to my complete honesty. What a smear!


Smith: “… failure to keep her word about 12-year term limits …”

The truth: I never promised or made any statement that I would serve for a maximum of 12 years. However, I did advocate for term limits and, due primarily to my efforts, NMUSD district voters will have term limits on the ballot this November.

Smith: “… rubber-stamping.”

The truth: I have never been a rubber stamp (again, how does one disprove a smear?), and those who know my record know how I have advocated and helped bring tremendous improvements to our district.


Smith: “The new stadium at CdM High has been stalled for over five years.”

The truth: While Smith is blaming me for this, he knows the reason. We held over 20 community meetings over those five years to listen to the concerns of East Bluff residents. Listening to the community and addressing their concerns is time consuming, but time well spent. By the way, it won’t be a stadium. Smith would have known that if he had attended even one of those community meetings and contributed instead of blaming.

Smith: “Yelsey had not pushed hard enough for fences around all schools …”

The truth: All of our schools have fences and limited access points. Smith also wants metal detectors. There is much disagreement within our community on the need for metal detectors. But Smith doesn’t care about what parents want for their kids, he just wants to spout mean nonsense.

Smith: “There is still tremendous waste of precious resources … ”

The truth: Our district is one of the best managed and fiscally sound districts in the county. For example, during the financial crisis of 2007-08, school districts all around NMUSD were forced to lay off teachers and other personnel. NMUSD, which faced the same external financial pressures as all the other districts, did not lay off a single teacher. Additionally, NMUSD has maintained the highest rating of credit worthiness.

I stand behind my record as an NMUSD trustee, and hope voters will do their homework on me and my opponent. I know the voters in NMUSD Area 4. I trust that they will make the right decision and vote for me on Nov. 6.

Karen Yelsey


Newport Beach

The writer is a Newport-Mesa school board trustee.

Non-profit staff members need a living wage

The inability of many Orange County nonprofit organizations to pay living wages to their staffs is taking its toll. It’s a major hurdle for Costa Mesa-based Project Independence, which serves Orange County residents with developmental disabilities.

I recently spoke with a parent of a young man with intellectual/developmental disabilities (I/DD) after yet another beloved long-term staff member of Project Independence resigned. Her son exhibits challenging and sometimes aggressive behaviors.

He is diagnosed with autism and his coping skills with frustration and communication are limited. The critical component that makes a life of dignity and inclusion in his community possible are well-trained and competent staff members who listen and understand him. His support staff must wear many hats: Advocate, teacher, behaviorist, job coach. They must be able to help navigate the many challenges of our complex world daily.

So why did our long-term staff member resign? It’s both simple and devastating. He can’t afford to live on a wage equal to or less than he would be paid at entry level at nearly every other employer in Orange County. And we can’t afford to pay him what he deserves.

Project Independence has a 40-year history of excellence serving people with developmental disabilities. Under the Lanterman Act, they are all guaranteed the supports they need so that they can live, work and recreate with their non-disabled peers.

But they’re not always getting the rights the Act guarantees. Most, if not all day programs have long waitlists because of our inability to attract and retain quality staff. With rates frozen since 2006, we have been unable to absorb the high cost of insurance, healthcare, building leases, IT, fuel and training.


We have raised pay, but now lose money on some services we provide, in order to keep the dominoes from falling. Once we paid $4 to $5 more an hour than minimum wage. Now our $11.50 an hour starting wage is laughable in such an expensive and competitive county. Imagine trying to live on that wage. Even if you love your work you couldn’t do it.

It is unconscionable our legislators don’t recognize the value of staffs like ours and prevent them from being marginalized into poverty. As we move people with I/DD challenges out of large facilities statewide, such as Fairview Developmental Center, we cannot forget the promise of the Lanterman Act.

A living wage for the key people making that promise a reality is all we ask. Our staff and our community deserve no less. Please call your representative. Demand this be corrected so we keep this vital system of support available to our most vulnerable.

Debra Marsteller

President and CEO, Project Independence

Costa Mesa

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