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City Life: Why I harp on school board

January 24, 2012|By Steve Smith

Over the last few months, I have received dozens of responses to the series of columns regarding the school board and school district policies. All but one has been positive. Based on those, it is time to pause for some clarification.

My approach to school board issues is not personal. I am neither friends with nor do I have any personal dislike for any of the members. I have avoided name-calling and any personal references so that I can stick to the facts.

I report only those facts that can be verified either through reliable online sources, such as the California Department of Education website, through a spokesperson for such a group, through public records or through eyewitness accounts.

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Sometimes, I go on snipe hunts.

I was told that some of the employees who worked on the federal holiday were receiving extra pay as a result. If true, that meant that the scheduling error was more than just clerical, it was also expensive. That was false.

I will not include hearsay — something someone heard someone else say — because it is not reliable.

When I criticize the school board, or any other public entity, I try to include a viable recommendation.

"Viable" is a key word here, for it is easy to just say, "The school board should improve the three failing Costa Mesa elementary schools."

It is constructive to state that the schools need improvement and then provide a solution that can be implemented without undue strain. For those three schools, Wilson, Whittier and Pomona, I wrote that district representatives should visit Plummer Elementary in Los Angeles, which has similar demographics but is a high-achieving school. I have also recommended that if the board is unable or unwilling to improve these schools, it should let someone else try.

After I reviewed Supt. Jeffrey Hubbard's travel expenses, I recommended that the district develop a written travel policy so that there is no misunderstanding about what behavior is acceptable and what is not. There are plenty of travel policies in the private sector from which to copy.

When I objected to the use of taxpayer dollars for travel to conferences at a time when science camp money is short and basic supplies are needed, I recommended that the board approach the California School Boards Assn. about holding online meetings and seminars instead of attending expensive live conferences.

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