Why Can't Capistrano Unified Find Happiness?

Categories: Main, School Daze
Our CUSD cover story from 2007.
The teachers' strike at Capistrano Unified School District is grabbing a lot of news coverage, from KCAL to KPPC. Anyone who doesn't live in South County and/or who hasn't been paying attention to CUSD before this, though, doesn't appreciate the fact that the turmoil--which has seen kids trashing schools and spending their learning time watching Napoleon Dynamite--is simply the latest chapter in the long, tragic tale that is my childhood school district's history.

It's been a good while since CUSD hasn't been a mess. Here's a crash course in our past coverage of the drama.

In 2007, the Weekly's Daffodil Altan chronicled the start of the district's deterioration in this cover story. The gist: For nearly two decades, one regime had ruled the school board and one superintendent had consolidated power, violated open-meeting laws and spent money in ways that some people didn't like. Classrooms crumbled while district offices were built. Parents got fed up and pushed for a change. Over the course of two recalls (including one that failed) and two regular elections, they booted the entirety of the old school board out. Former superintendent James Fleming was indicted, in part, for creating an "enemies list" of district parents.

The new "reform" regime, though, has seen just as much strife. We covered a meeting in January 2009 that was filled with angry parents, and from what we understand, the tenor at meetings has only gotten worse since then. The board canned a well-liked superintendent who, as it was revealed in the Weekly, may have been double dipping at posh retreats using district money. With plummeting tax revenues and cuts from Sacramento, the district has had to wrestle with balancing its budget by slashing programs--and trying to reduce teachers' salaries.

It's that last battle that has led to the strike.

Some say that underlying the turmoil is an ideological struggle. The new "reform" board was endorsed by the county GOP and funded, in part, by right-wing group the Education Alliance, which seeks, among other things, to weaken the teachers' union. At most meetings, you can hear accusations that the current school board is seeking to destroy public education from the inside out. The board, in turn, points blame at the unions for their inflexibilty and alleged unwillingness to work for solutions.

Once the strike is finished, will things get calmer at CUSD? Probably not. There's another recall campaign underway, as well as a campaign to reform how trustees are selected. Our prediction: By the time we'll be able to say there's peace at the district, most of the student who are there now will likely have graduated.
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