The federal judge in TUSD's desegregation case has tapped an expert in race relations and academic achievement to oversee the district's efforts to bring its schools into racial balance.

University of Maryland professor emeritus Willis D. Hawley was appointed by U.S. District Judge David Bury to serve as the "special master" to the district.

Willis will have six months to formulate a unitary status plan for TUSD. Once it is formulated, he will be responsible for:

• Overseeing the implementation of the plan.

• Making recommendations to the court as to whether the district has complied with the plan in good faith and attained unitary status.

• Formulating a new plan to guide the district in maintaining constitutional compliance once it has been released from court supervision.

Though the special master is court-ordered, TUSD will foot the bill, paying Willis $250 per hour, not to exceed $2,000 for any day.

Willis will also have to be reimbursed for travel and other reasonable expenses incurred in connection with his duties.

In addition to ensuring that Willis has access to staff, governing board members, schools and district data, TUSD will have to get approval from him on attendance boundary changes, changes to student assignment, building or acquiring new schools, and proposals to close existing schools.

For more than 30 years, the Tucson Unified School District operated under a federal court order to desegregate its schools.

In 2009, the order was lifted and the district began operating under a post-unitary plan that established a good-faith commitment to the future operation of the district.

In 2011, that decision was reversed when a judge determined that the district had not acted in good-faith compliance with the desegregation decree. At that time, the federal court resumed oversight.

Willis is expected to be in place as special master until the federal court grants unitary status and terminates oversight. The process could take a few years.

Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at or 573-4175.