A split TUSD Governing Board voted late Tuesday not to renew the contract of the Mexican American Studies director, after throngs of protesters had delayed the vote nearly an hour.

After a disruption including chants and students tying themselves together with plastic ties, the board left the room but eventually came back and voted 3-2 not to renew Sean Arce's contract. Dissenting were Adelita Grijalva and Alex Borges Sugiyama.

After the vote, students set off a smoke bomb in the board meeting room at TUSD headquarters, 1010 E. 10th St. Approaching midnight, student protesters were gathered in the street outside.

Earlier, the board had extended the call to the audience portion from the standard 45 minutes to three hours in order to hear as many constituents as possible.

Then, about 10:40 p.m., the board was preparing to vote when protesters began chanting, "no justice, no peace, no racist TUSD," leading to the delay.

During the earlier call to the audience, pleas to keep Arce as director of the program were filled with passion, tears and sometimes anger. 

Former Mexican American Studies student Adam Martinez emotionally spoke of how he believes he would have ended up in jail had it not been for educators from the program like Arce. 

One of Martinez's teachers, Sally Rusk, followed with an equally tearful plea, calling Arce an "amazing educator" and the heart of the department.

The board was also expected to consider the nonrenewal of two other administrator contracts for next school year: Those of Donald Calhoun, who works with middle school leaders on alternative programs; and Ramona Clinch, an assistant principal at Lynn/Urquides Elementary who has recently become a teacher. 

The district's recommended nonrenewal of the contracts is budget-related, said TUSD spokeswoman Cara Rene. 

However, TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone has said that in Arce's case, the board was "not willing to renew his contract for a number of reasons." Pedicone said the position would remain open to be filled at a later time. Arce's salary was $84,865 as of the beginning of the school year.

Arce said Tuesday he believes his contract was up for consideration out of retaliation. "I spoke out in favor of protecting the department and providing the best education possible," said Arce, who now plans to works as an education consultant and to work with supporters to reinstate Mexican American Studies classes.

Mexican American Studies no longer offers courses, after the TUSD board voted to eliminate them amid a political threat of the loss of millions of dollars in state funding if the classes continued. 

Upon seeing hundreds of supporters endorse him at Tuesday's meeting, Arce called the experience "humbling." "I think it's much more of a demonstration of the importance of Mexican American Studies to the community," he said. "It's a reflection of not one individual, but rather of a program."

Arce confirmed that Pedicone offered him a position as an assistant principal at a middle school, but said that was pending board approval and that it was unlikely he would have the support. He said Pedicone told him that if Arce did fill that position, he would be under "extraordinary scrutiny." He said he was not willing to subject himself to that.

While voicing their support for Arce, who was hired in 1999, Mexican American Studies supporters also called for the resignation of TUSD Governing Board member Michael Hicks, who appeared on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" on Comedy Central last week. 

Hicks' "Daily Show" comments about Mexican American Studies and the explanation that he based his decision to eliminate the classes on "hearsay" ignited a firestorm. Hicks also said the program's teachers bought burritos for students to build their bond - a claim that protesters ridiculed by handing out free burritos to the crowd before last night's board meeting.

Hicks has since denied making the statements as presented on national television, saying his comments were edited and put together for satirical purposes.

"Last week's 'Daily Show with Jon Stewart' highlighted the shameful ignorance of local school authorities in TUSD, represented by the notorious … Michael Hicks," the student-formed group UNIDOS said.

Also, 10 former TUSD Governing Board members signed and delivered a letter critical of how the current board has handled the Mexican American Studies controversy. Those who signed the letter were: Tom Castillo, Jim Christ, Joel Ireland, Mary Belle McCorkle, Eva Bacal, Sue DeArmond, Sylvia Campoy Alex Rodriguez, Laura Almquist and U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva. 

The ex-board members called on the current board to lead by example and in a manner that "unifies rather than divides."

"When individual board members go nationally and make statements that are totally false, it reflects badly on us," said DeArmond, who served from 1987 to 1990.

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Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at ahuicochea@azstarnet.com or 573-4175.