Pamela Powers Hannley, a progressive voice for Arizona
Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) is losing students at an alarming rate, is projected to have a $17 million shortfall in the 2013-14 school year, and is being run by an unpopular superintendent whose six-figure contract will soon be up for renewal.
Any one of these issues would be a lot for the beleaguered, all-volunteer TUSD governing board to tackle, but when they have to consider all three of these challenges simultaneously– with boisterous protesters chanting and disrupting your meetings– in an election year– with three board members up for re-election– it’s a big deal.
TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone and the staff recently laid out their suggestions for deficit reduction– close more schools, fire more teachers, cut services, cut salaries… and, oh, by the way, get the taxpayers to pay for a school-building project. (Huh?)
From the Arizona Daily Star…
Options include salary cuts across the district, cutting more than 300 teachers, increasing class sizes and reducing programs.
The action recommended by TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone involves closing schools and building newer, larger ones – an expense that TUSD would ask taxpayers to cover through a bond election…
Pedicone acknowledged that even the discussion of possible closures is extremely sensitive. He said he hoped residents would be more receptive to the idea if it were presented in a way in which they perceive they are getting something back.
“Building new schools to provide a facility that meets standards for quality schools would be more attractive than simply saying ‘we’re going to close your school and move students to another school where they might fit,’ ” he said.
Pedicone and the 1010 staff have gone off the deep end (trying to be nice, here). Yes, with 13,000 “empty seats” in TUSD, the district most likely has unused capacity, but the TUSD staff offers the same unimaginative, knee-jerk ideas every time there is a fiscal crisis. Cutting teachers, increasing class sizes, and shutting down programs will reduce costs, but it will also make TUSD less attractive to parents and will most likely lead to future decreases in enrollment.
Although one would assume that “salary cuts across the district” would include staff salaries, one spending item not on the superintendent’s hit list is cutting administrative positions. In the one of the attached videos (below), current board member Dr. Mark Stegeman says that TUSD spends more money on administrative staff and less per pupil than any other district of comparable size in Arizona. (I nearly dropped my video camera when I heard this. I always wondered what all of those administrators did.) Why is Pedicone focusing on reducing student-related funding instead focusing on reducing administrative overhead?
Furthermore, Pedicone’s proposal for grandiose school-building program seems to fly in the face of reason. Does he really believe that the taxpayers will choose to bankroll building new schools, when student services are being cut and students are leaving the district in droves?
School Board Elections
With all of this stress and controversy surrounding the TUSD board, it’s a wonder anyone wants to be elected to the job, but despite the district’s mostly positive approval rating, there are lots of people who think they can run the district better. In recent weeks, I had the occasion to hear and videotape three school board candidates: former ESL teacher and current UA College of Education instructor Kristel Foster; trial lawyer Ralph Ellinwood; and UA Associate Professor of Economics and current TUSD board member Dr. Mark Stegeman. (See all three videos after the jump.)
Foster and Ellinwood– along with Cam Juarez– are running as save-Mexican-American-Studies candidates, according to Ellinwood, who spoke at a recent Drinking Liberally meeting along with Foster. The three incumbents– Miguel Cuevas, Alexandre Sugiyama, and Stegeman– all voted to end MAS (after the state of Arizona found the program to be unlawful) rather than be fined $15 million.
I’m not going to recap the attached videos, but there are a few ah-ha moments worth pointing out.
In Foster’s talk, she outlines her values, which include improving communication and making data-driven deicsions. She and Ellinwood both used the data/evaluation argument as one reason why they want to bring MAS back; unfortunately, when asked where the MAS evaluation data are published, neither had an answer or a URL. Ellinwood’s remarks primarily focused on his experiences as a TUSD parent and grandparent. (As a TUSD parent for 16 years and a TUSD grandparent for 3 years, I can testify that parents have a unique perspective on the schools and the district; I believe parents should play a greater role in decision-making.)
In Stegeman’s remarks, he outlines his focus areas if re-elected: reallocating funds to increase the amount of money going to classroom insturction and decrease administrative staff costs; looking at the role of principals in school performance; scaling back social promotion; and rethinking the school calendar to meet professional development needs, offer more time to students who need remedial help, and cater to the needs of families.
[This post was published originally on Blog for Arizona on July 13, 2012.]