As the president gave the State of the Union Address 2,700 miles away, Capistrano Unified Superintendent Joe Farley spoke at a forum Tuesday that was, in effect, a state of the district address.
The state of the district is dire financially: more layoffs loom, tens of millions must still be cut and the and other schools' existence hangs in the balance.
Still, test scores continue to rise and instruction remains top-notch, Farley told forum attendees.
Two years into his term as the head of Capistrano Unified School District, Farley also talked about some of the changes he's made in the district.
The following is a rundown of some of his responses to questions posed by San Clemente Education Association head Linda Verraster (questions are paraphrased, the answers are direct quotes.):
LV: We've had to cut $100 million from the budget over the last six or seven years. What are we going to do going forward?
JF: We've tried to keep cuts away from the classroom as much as possible. The . Assuming the passes, we'd still have to cut that. If it doesn't pass, we'll have to cut $18 million more.
The only way we can handle this is increased class sizes, furloughs, salary consessions and layoffs. Right now, 92 percent of our budget goes to personnel and 8 percent goes to everything else. In normal times, about 82 percent should go to personnel.
We have teachers who have taught for 10-11 years who get layoff notices. This summer, we will still be notifying teachers--the teachers notified last summer will be notified again. We're going to go through it again this year.
I don't think school districts can take any more. I worry about what the fate of our public education will be.
LV: The district is losing enrollment, and that means it's losing revenue. How will CUSD cope with declining enrollment?
JF: We're projecting next year to be as low as 49,000 students--we've been as high as 54,000. A lot of our elementary schools are getting really small... There are 215 students at Barcelona... It gets really into a cost problem.
, but we're not looking at closing any other schools next year.
For every 30 students who leave for a charter school, that's one teacher we lose. I don't think anyone would be surprised that a public school superintendent doesn't like handing over school facilities to an organization I have minimal authority over.
Whether I like it or not, this is our future. That, in itself, has to drive the public sector to be more competitive. I think it's important for our schools to have variety, [but] I'm always going to be a proponent of regular public schools.
(Farley mentioned tentative plans in the works for instituting magnet schools in the 2013-14 school year to attract enrollment and give parents more choice within the regular public school system.)
LV: What are some accomplishments you felt you have achieved in your tenure so far?
JF: The superintendent runs the school district, with all respect to the school board... I feel that wasn't the case for the last several years. During those years, instruction was not the primary focus of the district. It was other things, some of them were political.
We've really focused in the last year-and-a-half on what happens in the classroom.
I think we've imporved the reputation of the district. It ebbs and flows with one controversy or another, but overall, I think it's improved.
Even though we literally have no money, it is really obvious there were some areas that needed shoring up. . It's also improving instruction for everyone... every teacher is an English teacher because it's the medium they use to convey the message.
We are also shoring up the whole area of special education. We had too many kids being placed in special education and too many going to outside placements.
LV: Why did you choose to lead a district when it was suffering from so much internal strife?
JF: I have not tried to carve this out as a career, but my whole career has been about helping improve or changing a school or district. Throughout my career, I have followed three principals who have been asked to leave and three superintendents who have been asked to leave.
I was never someone who was comfortable managing the status quo, [but] I've committed that this is my last superintendency."