New SSUSD president talks about education

Farris reflects on 26 years of history, shares vision for future

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Following his recent election to the presidency of the Sierra Sands Unified School District’s Board of Education, William “Bill” Farris shared his vision for the board’s future.

In this, his 26th year as a board member, Farris has seen many changes, challenges and trends in school administration, both locally and in the state.

“Currently, my strongest area of concern is helping us grow through the financial circumstances we have been in for the last five years into a more sound position,” said Farris.

He sees the “hottest” issue as far as the public is concerned, as that of school safety after the recent devastating events in Newtown, Conn.

“On everyone’s mind is school safety because of recent events. Our staff has always been diligent to keep eyes and ears open and see that we have as safe and secure an environment for our kids that we can.

“I find it’s really important to try and help the general public understand some of the things happening in public schools because sometimes the perception by the public and reality are not one and the same.”

He cited an example. “We have just been through an election. The public voted for a sales-tax increase, with the clear understanding the money would go to education, and so the public’s perception is that there are increased funds for public education.

“The reality is, last year’s budget was based on that proposition passing, so it did not actually materialize as an increase in funds but merely as a maintenance of status.

“This is complicated by the fact that, in the state of California, education and school funding is currently 9 percent below what it was in 2007-08.

“Our challenge is to meet the needs of our kids with the money we have. This is more of a challenge because the general public believes we have a larger income stream than we had before.

“In fairness to the governor, what he is proposing for this coming year will be an increase in education spending.”

Farris had statistics on hand. “In 1972, California was 19th in the U.S. for spending for students, out of 50 states. Today, we are now 47th in per-pupil spending. California spends $2,850 less per year per student than the national average.

“We need to first get us up to the national average,” said Farris.

“To try to help the public understand — if I were a member of the general public, my understanding would be that I have already fixed the district’s needs because I passed the sales tax. That seems logical, but is based on limited information.

“Those are the challenges we have. I am amazingly impressed with what our current administration, teachers and staff are accomplishing in educational excellence in this community with the limited resources they’ve been given.

“But as a state, we need to put our money where our mouth is and get our funding for public education where it needs to be.”

In regard to bond sales, Farris said, “We have pretty much expended what’s currently available to renovate our schools. We just finished Las Flores [Elemen-tary School] before school opened in September. A lot of work has gone on in the district in the last eight years to bring our facilities up to par.”

Farris said he is honored to be president of the school board.

“We have an amazing community that has always been very supportive of education. We have tried to maintain a broad education. We actually have more music and arts opportunities available to our students han many other communities do now.”

So what’s in the future for the SSUSD? “We have an upcoming change in common core curriculum. There will be some issues in how we test our kids, which will have some economic impact and impact on our ability to compare past and future test scores, because it will be a completely different test. We’ll need the public to understand, so they won’t be comparing apples to oranges,” said Farris.

“It’s a state and federal movement. This is state-driven.” In other words, the district is required to make these changes.

“I think as a district, we’re in a good place to continue to address the needs of our kids in a positive way, and I’m committed to doing my best to see that we maintain that effort.”

Story First Published: 2013-01-23