As the court trial for ex-Capo Unified Superintendent James Fleming and former assistant superintendent gets delayed again, I am prompted to look back on the huge mess that has been made of the district since the indictment of this pair. The school district has been operating without an established leader (Fleming had been leading the board for 15 years, and the school district just appointed a new interim superintendent to take his place), the board has been struggling to make important decisions in this time of economic distress, and students have been suffering as a result. This case proves what kind of destruction can happen when people who are supposed to be responsible for our children’s education let their political goals get the best of them instead.
Ever since Fleming’s departure, the school district has gone downhill, with plenty of teachers losing their jobs due to budget cuts. Schools are being forced to increase their class size and face potential cuts of important programs (i.e. elementary music) and staff. I feel these budget cuts close to home as I have been to contentious board meetings, watched a few of my good friends lose their teaching jobs, and seen my brother, a student in the district, struggle with confusion over losing two teachers that were important to him in high school band.
According to one source, the school district’s budget problems stem from them having to buy out this superintendent’s large contract as they forced him out two years ago. Capistrano Unified School District has been having severe financial difficulties and making inconclusive budget decisions ever since the controversy with the superintendents prompted the chaos they are in. California’s overall budget crisis, leaving the district uncertain of the funding they will get, doesn’t help the situation, although other school districts in California who have had good leadership (and didn’t allegedly have to buy out their superintendent’s contract) seem to be getting by just fine, offering teachers who are leaving Capo lucrative perks to draw them in.
The case against Fleming and his assistant counterpart centers around him creating an “enemies” list of the district, along with using school funds for improper political purposes (see related article). While most educators have more honorable motives than this, the school system as a whole always needs to keep in mind that they are operating for the education of children and students should be their priority. This includes making sure teachers are doing their best and providing encouragement and motivation to staff, not attempting to influence political decisions that would most likely have minor effects on the education of the kids. Every decision the school board and its superintendent make should be prefaced by the important question, “Is this best for the student population I serve?”
Two years has gone by since the superintendent pair was originally scheduled to go to court, and meanwhile the district they left behind has just gotten worse. I certainly hope the court trial proves something and that Fleming, his assistant, and anyone else who would be tempted to mismanage a school district learn a lesson from this case.