MOORLACH UPDATE — Orange County History — December 20, 2019

Merry Christmas

Wishing you a wonderful holiday season.

Phil Brigandi

Orange County has been blessed with some amazing historians, like Jim Sleeper, Esther Cramer and Leo Friis.  We currently have Martin Brower, Chris Epting and Doris Walker chronicling our history. Someone we can no longer look to is Phil Brigandi. Losing Phil Brigandi at such a young age is a real blow to the OC.

Phil was the go-to person when you wanted a presentation on Orange County history.  He assisted me when Orange County celebrated its quasquicentennial (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Puzzling — August 6, 2014 and MOORLACH UPDATE — Outsourcing Measure — July 21, 2014).

When my old friend, Huell Howser, did a show on the city of Orange, Phil Brigandi served as the tour guide.

In addition to writing a few books, he edited several Orange Countiana volumes (see MOORLACH UPDATE — ORANGE COUNTIANA — A Journal of Local History — November 9, 2012).

It was fitting that the OC Register announced Phil’s passing on its front page.  To me, Phil was that big of a deal. His stature in the world of historical societies is already deeply missed.

Joan Irvine Smith

Speaking of Orange County history, Joan Irvine Smith has passed away.  I had many fun conversations with Joan while serving on the Orange County Board of Supervisors.  The Katie Wheeler Library in Irvine was an exact rebuilding of the Irvine family’s ranch house. “John, I felt like I was back in the fourth grade when I toured the home.”  She was so delighted.

I mentioned Robert Glass Cleland in my Letter to the Editor below.  He wrote “The Irvine Ranch” back in 1952. If you can obtain a copy, it is worth the read.

Joan also loaned me the artwork for public display in my Supervisorial and Senate Capitol offices.  One of the big assignments that she encouraged me to do was link both ends of Avenida La Pata, known as the La Pata Gap.  I worked on it, alongside Supervisor Pat Bates, most of my eight years on the Board and it was completed in 2016.

Thanks for the assist, Joan.  You are also missed.

Charter Schools

A sage friend from my youth, Granny Brasser, gave me some invaluable advice years ago: observe.  This year I observed that charter schools took a beating and I had a front-row seat to the carnage.  To minimize it as simply a few pieces of legislation is an injustice.

I firmly believe local control is the best thing for our communities, and charter schools are a shining example of local control. The Voice of OC provides a counter-argument to my Op-Ed supporting charter schools that I believe missed some key points.

The first is the claim of losing the ADA revenues from 30 students, should they transfer to a charter school.  That’s only half the story. The District also eliminates the expenses for those 30 students.

As for special education requirements and Orange Unified School District, I would recommend reviewing TLC Public Charter School.

The observation, using what’s called regression analysis, was to see if there is any general connection between the number of charters in a public school district, and that district’s school finances.  It turned out there was no connection, good or bad. Here’s a short primer on regression analysis.

Where we do agree is that charters should be reviewed individually.  But, the current status of all the charter schools found the argument that they are fiscally harmful could not be substantiated as a whole.

Also, it’s a tad disingenuous of legislators to go after charter schools — many which serve underserved populations and are not allowed to turn students away — and demand more “oversight” and “accountability” through punitive legislation when there is very little of either in the traditional public schools. Don’t believe me? Go to a local school board meeting and ask the last time a failing teacher was let go after they got tenure or why money is being spent on outside organizations to teach curriculum you disagree with or why misbehaving students continue to disrupt classes without any corrective action by competent adults. Parents would be demanding more school options if they actually knew how little their opinion matters in their public schools.

The tragedy is that, if a charter school fails, it is closed.  But, if a public school fails, it continues. The real problem is how difficult it is to close of a failed traditional public school. Indeed, the reason charters have become so popular is because, for many parents, they are the only way to get their kids out of failed schools that can’t be closed, and into charter schools that promote achievement. 

Bottom line, both charter and traditional schools are here to stay and can compete with one another to bring the best to our kids.

25th Anniversary Look Back

The December 18, 1994, Sunday editions provided additional major stories, but  also provided humor, including Christmas carols with OC-centric lyrics (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Daily Pilot — December 18, 2009).

The OC Register‘s piece from December 11th was getting some circulation (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Second Annual School Districts Report — December 11, 2019).  It was picked up by by the Seattle Times and was titled “Gambling It Away — As Orange County Treasurer, Robert Citron Took Too Many Risks.”  It can be accessed at

On December 19, 1994, the media just kept peeling the onion as more revelations were discovered by reporters (see MOORLACH UPDATE — LOOK BACKS — December 19, 2009).  I was even mentioned in a Der Spiegel article, which my father, who spoke several languages, translated for me in a two-page handwritten memo.  Thanks, Dad (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Goodbye to my Dad — March 23, 2019).

The demand to be a keynote speaker around the county was incredible.  And, one of the sad situations was the fear expressed to me by representatives of nonprofit organizations who had contracts with the County of Orange.  Consequently, you can appreciate the following press release issued by Supervisor Roger R. Stanton:

Orange County Board of Supervisors Secure Emergency Disbursements For 108 Community Service Providers

The Orange County Board of Supervisors today announced that they have been able to secure emergency disbursements for 108 community service providers from the County’s investment pool.

Community-based non-profit organizations (CBOs) and service contractors can expect payment of their pre-petition claims by the end of this week.  CBOs contract with the County to provide a range of social and health care services. Actual funding for CBOs, however, is either wholly, or in large part, provided by state, federal or other funding sources, which eventually reimburse the county for all or part of the cost.

Among the groups and independent contractors that will be receiving approximately $2.9 million in total disbursements through the end of the year are emergency shelter homes that provide foster care to abused children and court-ordered counseling services.

On December 20, 1994, the OC Register provided three interesting perspectives, including one from Sir Eldon Griffiths on “Orange County’s big bust” (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Pension Crisis — December 20, 2009).  Scott Peotter would be prominent in the other two pieces.  Since my blog did not load up the entire third piece, here is the remainder:

Citron said he’d think about it; Swan said he’d be drawing $50 million a week of Irvine Ranch Water District’s money until he heard back.

Swan got his first $50 million Nov. 3, the same day his re-election campaign ran an ad in the Irvine World News touting the pool’s safety.

On Nov. 10 he got another $50 million out.  On Nov. 15, the Fed again boosted interest rates.  And Nov. 25, county officials told Swan further withdrawals would be delayed 30 days.

On Dec. 1, Citron announced that the fund had lost $1.5 billion.

“Peer had information that would lead an individual to conclude that the Sanitation Districts’ investments were in jeopardy,” Gullixson said.  “he set himself up as an expert, then told us there was nothing to be alarmed about.”



Orange County historian Phil Brigandi a class act

Re “Historian Phil Brigandi, who spent decades constructing Orange County’s story, dies” (News, Dec. 17) As an amateur historian, I have enjoyed every visit and encounter with noted Orange County scholar Phil Brigandi.

In fact, I own a number of his books and Orange Countiana Journals that he edited.

Phil took on the mantle of Orange County historian Jim Sleeper. And why not?

He had the abilities of a Robert Glass Cleland. He had the academic prowess of noted California historian and former State Librarian Kevin Starr.

And he had the personable style, congeniality and humility of a Huell Howser. Phil Brigandi was the best selection to serve as Orange County’s archivist, where he served with distinction.

As a former Orange County supervisor, I was and am a big fan. Phil gave an outstanding keynote address recently at the Orange County Historical Society’s Centennial Gala this past Sept. 14. It was the last time we were together.

His eloquence, grasp of details and emphasis on the positive that evening will be a fitting closing memory that I will never forget.

Orange County lost an icon this week with Phil’s passing. He was our historian-laureate.

The newspaper proved beyond doubt that it is still Orange County’s newspaper by announcing Phil’s passing on its front page.

That was a classy act for another class act. Phil Brigandi will be deeply missed.

— John M.W. Moorlach, Costa Mesa The letter writer is state senator for the 37th District.


Lundell: California Students Deserve Properly Vetted Charter Schools


“Charter schools took a beating in the state capitol this year.” This is how Sen. John Moorlach’s December 12th opinion piece about charter schools begins. The insinuation that California’s charter schools have suffered a setback simply because the state passed a few pieces of legislation tells a highly biased, one-sided story. While the California charter school system has produced some notable successes, the system has also become littered with schools that have failed to live up to their promises. So, after 27 years of virtually no oversight, new pieces of legislation require charter schools to be more transparent and more accountable to students, communities, school districts, and taxpayers. Good charter schools will not find this newly required accountability and transparency to be a setback. Schools that have abused the system, failed to serve their students and communities, and misused taxpayer money might feel like they’ve “taken a beating,” and new charter schools might actually need to have all their ducks in a row to obtain school district approval, but as a highly involved parent, invested community member, and taxpayer, I’m okay with that. Addressing shortfalls, rooting out abuses, and requiring more from our new charter school petitions is what is best for our students.

As for Sen. Moorlach’s attempt to prove charter schools do not have a negative financial effect on school districts, don’t be too quick to buy what he’s selling. Sen. Moorlach’s argument hinges on lumping all charter schools together into a collective whole. But we must look at the financial impact of each charter school locally, not collectively, to ensure each charter school does not produce negative consequences for its school district’s finances.

It is a fact that charter schools drain funds from the district’s coffers because when students leave the district schools, ADA funding leaves with them. If 30 students from varying grades leave their local schools to attend a charter school, the cost to run an individual classroom is not substantially decreased because a class of 30 costs essentially the same to run as a class of 29. Additionally, charter schools statistically educate fewer special education students. The average yearly cost for educating a student with special needs is $26,000, which is substantially more than the state and federal revenue received for the same services. When a charter school takes a disproportionate number of general education students because they are not prepared with a curriculum or sound budget to accomodate students with special needs, it is the school district that will bear the disproportionate cost of educating these students with higher costs.

Since Moorlach likes data, let’s talk about some stats. In 2017-2018, for every one charter school that opened, more than one charter school closed. This shows the inherent risks involved with charter schools. When a charter fails, the students must be absorbed back into district schools, making charter schools a costly and potentially disruptive experiment. So, before voting to approve a charter school’s petition, a responsible school board must have assurances the particular charter school at issue will be educationally and fiscally sound. Each charter school must be individually considered, intensely vetted, and properly scrutinized before the district effectively hands the school millions of dollars of taxpayer money and entrusts it with educating our students.

When we try to conclude that “all charters do not hurt school finances” or, on the other hand, “all charters cause districts to struggle financially,” we fall into a dangerous black and white way of thinking. We do a disservice to our students when we hold to these absolutes rather than looking closely at each charter school on its own merits. In my own school district, Orange Unified, a new charter school has submitted a petition that the school board will vote on today (Thursday, December 19). In past meetings, this school has paraded many speakers in front of the board who laud charter schools generally. Very few have actually been from our school district, and very few have spoken about this specific school. They treat all charters schools like they offer the same quality education and leadership. The staff analysis of this particular charter (OCCA) is quite clear—this charter school fundamentally lacks what it takes to serve our students and is fiscally unfeasible. It’s alarming, then, to see members of our school board and other local politicians, seemingly beholden to charter school special interest groups, ignore the educational and financial pitfalls of this specific charter school at the expense of our students and taxpayers. A charter school that has not demonstrated it can offer an educationally and fiscally sound future for our students is definitely a school that is destined to become a financial burden on Orange Unified despite what the general data shows.

Carrie Lundell is a small-business owner, former PTA president and current PTO president. As a mother of four school-aged children, she has been a highly-invested parent in the Orange Unified School District for the past 13 years.

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