Doc Rioux At Large

Things never change in Mike McGrath's kingdom

Richard "Doc" Rioux · September 22, 1996

Want to get high on community action? I attended the Newhall School District Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday night. Wow! The drawbridge was up, the crocodiles were hungry, and the Lord of the Castle took no prisoners. Dr. J. Michael McGrath was at his princely best. So was the pretty maiden serving at his behest as the president of the school board, Susan Edwards. Together, they turned back the invading Stevenson Ranch soldiers with a dismissive tone that Henry VIII would have admired.

They showed no mercy as the comments of speaker after speaker were ignored, deferred or scowled at. Nothing offered as a solution to overcrowding was even remotely considered as reasonable, feasible or doable. The other members of the board just sat there like broken branches in Sherwood Forest, unable or unwilling to comment on any suggestion that was offered. It was off to the rack with anyone who would dare contradict the Prince or his pretty maiden. "To heck with overcrowding! There is no money, no bread! Let them eat cake. There are no new sites! No new solutions are possible under the big full moon where we do our assessments and make our decisions."

"Don't you understand, you pack of brigands and upstarts from Stevenson Ranch? You cannot challenge our authority, change our ways, or propose innovative approaches to solving problems. Off with your heads! Offering your Mello-Roos taxes to grade a new site and build roads to it for a modular-portable school to relieve the pressure of overcrowding in the district? You can't be serious! That's crazy! We'd rather spend $1 million to buy 29 portables and stick them all over the place on OUR, not your, already overcrowded seven school campuses."

"Setting up a public-private partnership and enlisting the support of a corporation to help build and operate a school! Yowza! ?!*?!*?!*?! You people from Stevenson Ranch need to go back to school and get degrees in educational administration. We never saw this kind of stuff in any textbooks we ever bought. How about if we operate lemonade stands instead?"

"Creating a task force of Concerned Citizens to look at available options the district could pursue? No, no, no and NO! We've set up this kind of alien entity before. It can't work. It won't work. The officials of this fiefdom are here to think about solutions. What can the people's rabble offer us that we don't already know? We can do it ourselves. We got into this mess by using all our experience combined, and we can, and we must assure you beyond any reasonable doubt whatsoever, cross our hearts and hope to die, that we can get out of this mess by once again knocking our heads together -- bonk, bonk -- and using the same wealth of experience that we have always used in the past."

At the end of the testimony given by Stevenson Ranch residents, district officials and board members woke up to applaud themselves vociferously: "Clap, clap, and clippity-clap, clap, clap." Then they broke out into song: "We're off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz. Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work we go. We've got no dough, just say NO! Hi ho, hi ho."

Such a happy bunch of bureaucrats! I can't tell you how rewarding it was to be part of the Newhall School District Board of Trustees meeting. The residents of Stevenson Ranch came away feeling so wonderful after Prince Mike told them that their new school was already 119 percent of capacity and that seven more portables would be placed near the basketball courts where the children now play. Susan Edwards was absolutely right. Knocking together the heads of the people with experience -- bonk, bonk -- really worked. Whoopee-Gee, Gosh-oh My! Let's all get on a bus for Disneyland.

In 1992, I wrote a letter to the editor discussing negotiations over Stevenson Ranch School with the Newhall School District. At the time, we were being told by the school board that we would never have a permanent school built in The Ranch. In the letter, I described J. Michael McGrath as the perfect Machiavellian Prince. To paraphrase what I wrote: "I must take my hat off to Mike. He is as clever as they come. He bobs and weaves like an old pro. Impossible to pin down, always ready with facts and figures to intimidate his opposition, he loses his opponents in the darkest woods and gets his way with an incomparable rate of success.

"He confers with Merlin and gives board members special potions to drink so that they can gladly take up his rubber stamps and approve his schemes. He is the living Prince, a master politician, a crafty adversary and a patient tactician. Nothing and nobody has been left standing in the way of his stormy determination to do whatever he wants, when he wants to do it, and however he wants it done. Even the Sheriff of Nottingham would have kissed his ring in reverence."

Some things never change. See ya' at the drawbridge, Mike. Bonk, bonk. Want some lemonade?

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Dr. Richard Rioux is a resident of Stevenson Ranch. His commentary appears on Sundays.


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