Commentary: City thinking ahead with school agreement

My friends and acquaintances, as well as those who have read my many offerings to the Daily Pilot over the years, are aware how very dedicated my wife, Elaine, and I are to our Costa Mesa schools.

I volunteered for 13 years on various committees for the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, including the Measure A bond issue, and served as the founding and first president of both the Eagle Pride Foundation and the Estancia-TeWinkle Schools Foundation.

My four daughters attended California Elementary, TeWinkle Middle and Estancia High schools. All graduated with honors. All received their magna or summa cum laude degrees from California universities. And as for giving back, our eldest daughter, Tiana, taught at California Elementary for years before moving on to teach in Temecula. Our daughter Dana, District Teacher of the Year for 2011, teaches AP English at Costa Mesa High School, and her husband, Scott Kahawai, is the history department chairman at Estancia.

My bona fides thus established, I would like to publicly thank the Costa Mesa City Council for having just agreed to preliminarily budget vital funding to help create and maintain an all-weather sports and athletic field at Mesa. The council has earmarked money to develop construction drawings.

This arrangement will permit the city to partner with NMUSD to improve the currently unlighted and unimproved track complex so that, if found acceptable to both parties, it may be used not only by the school during the day, but also by residents when lighted in the evening. Thus, improving an asset already owned by the community while making it available to even more of our citizenry makes great economic sense.

Obviously, the necessary first step will be establishing an agreement on the concept between the city and NMUSD governing approvals for the field and its usage. Next, bids will be let for architectural drawings, likely leading to bids for the ultimate construction project. No date for these steps has yet been established, but I understand the desire is to move forward as quickly as possible.

This is the first such donation or investment from the city to NMUSD in many years, and I hope more such efforts will be undertaken in the future.

Why would the city choose to make such an investment? For the very best reason possible. The council recognizes that a first-rate school system and quality educational/athletic opportunities is a major attraction. It will bring high-earning families to our fair city and keep those we already have.

And it will prevent our families from choosing to send their kids to neighboring community schools, as is happening far too often. It will also provide a strong incentive for our children to stay and work and raise their own families here. Lastly, and of utmost importance, it will vastly improve our real estate values and with them, our tax base. In short, this is the type of investment cities are supposed to be making on behalf of their citizens.

Now, more than ever, our schools' funding is being squeezed by drastic reductions from Sacramento. It seems our elected leaders would rather slash education and safety expenditures, and threaten to reduce them further unless we vote to increase our taxes once again, rather than to address the core spending issues that has put such a dark cloud over California.

More and more maintenance of district infrastructure is being deferred, just as our city has been forced to do over recent years for its streets, alleys, sidewalks and parks. Deferred maintenance almost always costs more once undertaken than had it been performed when initially required. I hope this trend can be curtailed.

This project is scheduled for a final vote during June 19 council meeting. Please contact your council members or city CEO Tom Hatch, as well as your NMUSD trustee, and join me in voicing your support to them for this very worthwhile project.

CHUCK CASSITY is a longtime Costa Mesa resident active and volunteer.

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