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Santa Maria Sun / Canary

The following article was posted on July 24th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 19 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 19

The bird that cried wolf

Wolves are scary. They’re big and mean looking, especially for land-dwelling creatures, like humans. Personally, I fly; so I’m not worried about them, but I am scared of hawks, so let’s go with that.

Hawks fly through the air with their big, blood-thirsty talons, and their meat-pecking beaks, on the hunt for small, defenseless creatures to satisfy their growling bellies.

I had a friend once. I know, for someone always making fun of everyone, it’s hard to believe that I could have a friend, but I did.

She was always trying to get me to fall off my perch. We’ll call her Willemina. Willemina had the darndest way of making me think a hawk was on the hunt for us, and she would always get my poor little heart beating at a million miles a minute. I would get all a flutter and next thing I knew it I would no longer be perched, but falling through the air.

Whew! It freaks me out even now.

But after a while, I stopped believing her. And the last time she did it to me … well, it was the last time, because let’s just say I didn’t believe her and she became dinner. I miss Willemina, but—come on—who would believe someone who tells you something that repeatedly turns out to be false?

Well, it’s kind of like the boy who cried wolf, who you humans are always telling your children about. And I’m starting to see a situation like that with a certain Santa Maria-Bonita School District board member. I’m sure by now you all know who I’m talking about.

In a recent e-mail to the Sun, this person wrote about the district’s safety record and those darn TurnKey school buildings that seem to pop into the news every time he makes a peep about them. He says the buildings aren’t certified by the state because they’re unsafe.

OK, OK, I’m talking about Will Smith.

This time around, Smith is upset about the elevators at El Camino, Arrelanes, and Fesler junior high schools. He took pictures of construction being done to the elevators over the summer and sent them out to KCOY, KSBY, the Sun, and the Santa Barbara News-Press. He very well could have sent them to many other news outlets all over the world, too. Those were just the ones listed in the e-mail we got.

“For all of you that listened to the district tell you that major safety issues did not exist with their buildings and children are and were safe, you need to look at these pictures and ask questions,” Smith wrote in the e-mail. “I believe you have a duty to report what is going on with this serious and deadly problem to the people of this city.”

It isn’t easy to tell exactly what’s going on just by looking at the photos, but this is how he explained it:

“The new construction had to be stripped and gutted so welding on the structure could be done,” Smith wrote. “If this had not been done and the structures collapsed, children and staff could have been killed or seriously hurt.”

Naturally, the Sun pursued Smith’s tip and started making phone calls. In talking to the business manager at the district, Matt Beecher—who called our reporter back even though he was on vacation—we found out that the structures were not gutted. The siding was ripped down and replaced with a less heavy material, and some earthquake prevention stuff that I don’t really understand was added, but no structural support beams needed to be added or were missing. The Sun also found out that Tommie Kunst Junior High School would be getting the same construction done on its elevator over winter break.

Beecher said the construction was being done as part of the process the district is going through to get its buildings certified by the state. He also said if there was an imminent danger to students, faculty, or staff, the district wouldn’t wait until December to start construction.

“When we have found issues that we considered a risk, we addressed them right away,” Beecher said. “Just because we’re fixing things, doesn’t mean the buildings are unsafe.”

Just to be certain that what Beecher said was truthful, the Sun followed up with the Division of the State Architect. Michael Liang, a division spokesperson, said the buildings were indeed being fixed up so the district could get them certified with the state. Liang did not say whether they were unsafe or safe, but referred the Sun to a document our paper knows well, because of the last time Smith cried foul.

It was the California Department of Education’s response to the complaint that Smith filed with the state over structural flaws on the district’s TurnKey built buildings. And while the state wasn’t super-de-duper clear in saying the structures were safe, the response did say, “the CDE found no facility conditions to exist that posed an emergency or urgent threat to the safety of pupils or staff.”

Every time Smith makes a complaint about the safety of the district’s buildings, every reporter worth their salt runs out to call all the respective agencies and people involved to get the God’s-honest truth on the matter, which turns out to not be crystal clear. But, it is in fact clear enough to report that there isn’t an urgent threat to student safety.

Not only do the reporters run out to get the facts, but all state agency personnel, and district personnel, and whomever else the reporter calls dedicate time to the matter. It all costs money, resources, and time. My point is that Smith’s complaints always seem to be about the same stuff. It’s always the same people who get called and do the calling, and the result is always within the same ballpark.

What the district is going through with its buildings has been common knowledge in the community for what seems like forever. If someone doesn’t know about it, that person obviously doesn’t read the newspapers or watch television.

Perhaps Smith’s intentions are pure, and he truly believes that the district and the state are choosing to put students and employees in harm’s way. Both entities seem to say they aren’t, but rather are repairing things step-by-step to bring them up to certifiable code.

Will there come a time when Smith cries foul, and nobody spends time on the issue? Will that time be the instance when there is indeed an imminent threat to safety?

It’s just something to think about. I mean, that shepherd boy had some of his sheep eaten by a wolf, and look at what happened to my friend Willemina. She’s digested food by now.

 

The Canary doesn’t believe in crying wolf. Send her comments to Canary@santamariasun.com.