For over twenty years, I followed and reported on the antics of the Newport-Mesa Unified School District (N-MUSD), first through 15 years in my newspaper column in the Daily Pilot and then during the six years and four months of my school board blog.
During that time, I attended most of the regular school board meetings and many of the “special” school board meetings, which are usually special only because they are scheduled at a time when few parents can attend.
There were lots of antics, but my goal was to try to elevate the discussion to help readers understand the bigger picture, which is that they have ceded control of one of the most important elements of our society to a group of people with little or no management experience, insufficient financial background, and an inability to initiate anything close to new concepts in education.
What we get instead is just another bureaucracy whose mission is to maintain the status quo.
Nothing is better proof of this than the fake “community input” meetings that are held by the N-MUSD and in districts across the country. Some of these meetings are mandated by the state, some are not. All of them are for show. Despite their pleas that they welcome community input, the N-MUSD and other districts have no more interest in what you have to say than they do in resigning due to incompetence.
I know this to be true because I went to many of these fake meetings and never once saw anything of substance emerge from any of them.
So it is with some slight satisfaction to read the recent reports of parent protests here and throughout the state over vaccine mandates and the possible inclusion of Critical Race Theory (CRT) in the curriculum.
The school districts are getting the input they claim to seek but are in a tied up in knots over what to do.
For this experienced education reporter, the challenge is not deciding whether to mandate vaccines or masks or implement CRT. The challenge is creating a local environment in which school boards provide far more transparency, accountability, and fiscal responsibility. All three of these concepts should be the bedrock of a school district philosophy.
What we get instead is a group of so-called trustees on a school board who become members of an exclusive club. These clubs have little or no desire to probe the minutiae of district business and instead simply and routinely rubber stamp staff recommendations. That’s a lot easier than questioning the superintendent and the staff over why they are doing something a certain way or why they are spending precious taxpayer dollars as though they grow on a tree in the backyard of the district headquarters.
I could spend the day telling you about the millions of wasted tax dollars I witnessed during my time as a school district watchdog.
Now, parents are involved and it’s great to see, but I wonder about a few things…
First, do the protesters understand the best solution to whatever has lit their fire? It should not take a major development to coax citizens out of their living rooms and onto the streets. After all, the school board trustees are elected by these same protesters, so the responsibility is really theirs. The best solution to avoiding any future conflicts is to vote them out of office in the next election. I tried: In 2014, I ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the N-MUSD board.
Second, where will these protesters be once their issues have been resolved? If past behavior is any predictor of future performance, the protesters will go right back to doing what they did before and pay no attention to the business of their school district. In fact, school districts are counting on that behavior. Their tactic right now is to say as little as possible and weather the storm.
Third, and finally, why now? There have been state and district vaccine mandates in place for decades for diseases such as measles, mumps, and chickenpox. Why are these people protesting only now? Understand: I don’t care whether a district mandates vaccines or masks or implements CRT, I am intrigued only by the timing.
These protests should be welcomed by each district. After all, they are getting the community input they claim to seek. The best benefit of the protests, however, is that they have exposed what this education watchdog has known for years: Your input is welcome as long as you agree with the district’s positions.
Steve Smith is a 35-year county resident, a former columnist for the Daily Pilot newspaper (15 years), and a contributor to several regional and national publications.
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