Steve Smith

Steve Smith (October 8, 2014)

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The latest candidate for the Newport-Mesa Unified School District board plans to focus his campaign on reducing bureaucracy in the district and improving struggling schools on Costa Mesa's Westside.

Steve Smith, 59, realizes that his goals are lofty and that change won't happen overnight.

"If all I do is shine a spotlight on the schools on the Westside then that's good enough for me," he said. "I'm one small vote, but I will be a big voice."

Smith, a longtime Costa Mesa resident and vice chairman of the Fairview Park Citizens Advisory Committee, on Monday announced his candidacy for the Newport-Mesa Unified School District board of education.

He is running to fill the vacancy in Area 1, which represents the Estancia High School zone.

In March, veteran board member David Brooks left to pursue charity work. Trustees appointed Vicki Snell, a former Parent Teacher Assn. member, to fill the seat until the election, at which point she would be able to run against other candidates to maintain her incumbency.

While Snell has indicated that she plans to run for her current seat, she has not formally announced her candidacy.

Smith said that if elected he would focus on improving Westside schools, which have not seen the boost in test scores that other schools in the district have experienced, and reduce the number of students who transfer out of the district.

Student transfers are a chronic problem, he said. Many Costa Mesa families send their children to private schools or transfer them to Huntington Beach.

But Smith said he understands the motivation.

"You only get one shot at their education, and if the schools aren't up to snuff, then I completely understand parents that move their kids," he said.

Before his two children, Kaitlin, now 24, and Roy, 22, were to enter TeWinkle Middle School in Newport-Mesa, Smith transferred them to the Orange County School of the Arts.

His son eventually graduated from Estancia High School, but his daughter did not return to Newport-Mesa.

Smith said another of his goals is to increase teacher job satisfaction by providing appropriate compensation and "reducing the amount of bureaucracy that encroaches on their day."

Smith is a former member of the Parent Teacher Assn., Newport-Mesa budget advisory committee, the site council at Victoria Elementary and the Estancia High School athletic boosters.

He said his schedule as a freelance writer gives him the flexibility necessary to take on the responsibilities of a board member, which include frequent visits to schools and daytime meetings.

Smith wrote a column for the Daily Pilot for 15 years focusing on local schools, family life and city politics.

In his column, he was often critical of the board's actions and "lack of accountability."

"Like a lot of other people, I'm tired of the board's failure to address chronic problems in the district," Smith said in a news release.

"As I did for the 15 years I wrote for the Pilot, I will bring a fresh perspective to these issues. I will not be another rubber stamp."