Commentary: Newport-Mesa burns money on conferences, consultants

The Newport-Mesa Unified School District does many things right, but spending money while crying poverty is not one of them.

In the next few weeks, we will hear from the district about shortfalls, insufficient funding by the state, the sharing of finances with poor districts and all the dire consequences that are going to befall the district, like the cutting of programs.

On the other hand, we will also hear about how smart this district is in conserving our money, and there will be a lot of inordinate number of pats on the back for saving the district in the face of the most draconian financial period in history. But amid all of this backslapping and self-congratulation, a few important things will be left out.

There are 34 administrators housed in the district office whose annual salaries total $5.2 million. Do not be deluded into thinking that this $5 million figure includes the principals and vice principals because it doesn't.

The superintendent's salary is $229,476,78.

The district's deputy superintendent makes $247,513.29 and has extra years of insurance in his contract.

And then there is Common Core, which is the newest shiny thing that is going to be the heart beat of most of the states, including California, and will change yet again the teaching and testing of students.

Newport-Mesa has once again decided to use Solution Tree, whose conferences, although informative, are expensive. The district is sending 48 people (including 30 teachers and 12 principals) to the Solution Tree Conference in Phoenix from April 30 to May 2.

Considering the fee ($629 per person), airfare, meals, hotel, substitute teachers for two days and miscellaneous expenses, the total could be nearly $90,000.

In addition, the district is buying a new math program (Swun Math), which will apparently be used in all elementary schools. Although this is a very popular program among teachers, it is not currently compatible with Common Core. Swun Math has promised that it is working on making it compatible. However, the district is spending $650,000 per year on a program that to date is not finished.

Newport-Mesa has consultants coming out its ears, and an enormous amount of money is spent consulting on things that Newport's own people were hired to do.

And then there are the thousands of dollars spent on various and sundry legal firms. It would appear to even the casual observer that the district would rather spend money on attorneys than actually make the changes needed to prevent lawsuits.

District teachers are dealing with large classes. Some middle school and high school teachers are carrying class loads of 37 to 40 students and some see as many as 180 students a day.

With overcrowded classes, old computers, lack of current technology, insufficient bandwidth and old textbooks, it's difficult to understand what the district's priorities really are.

SANDY ASPER lives in Newport Beach.

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