The central administration of Tucson’s largest school district is experiencing more turbulence amid its search for a new leader.
Two senior administrators — Abel Morado, an assistant superintendent, and Karla Soto, chief financial officer — are headed out the door, and 18 directors’ contracts were altered to give the school board power to remove them without cause after December.
Adelita Grijalva, a board member who along with Kristel Foster opposed the changes to directors’ contracts, said she was concerned that this “toxic” environment and lack of protection for employees would push people away from the district.
Too much change has happened too quickly, she said.
“It has to be gradual because otherwise, we’d lose talented people, and that’s what we’ve seen.”
At least one TUSD administrator didn’t see it coming.
“I told him I wanted to come back. I wanted to continue working,” Soto said in an interview Wednesday. It came as a shock when Gabriel Trujillo, the interim superintendent, informed her that she would not be returning.
Tucson Unified School District is consolidating some senior positions, partly as a result of enrollment loss and consequent budget reductions, Trujillo said. The district will no longer have a deputy superintendent position after Karen Kopec’s contract expires June 30.
The changes in administration and directors’ contracts also reflect some board members’ efforts to give more options to an incoming superintendent to select his or her own leadership team.
“I think it’s appropriate to give new leadership options,” said Mark Stegeman, a board member. Michael Hicks, board president, and Rachael Sedgwick, who joined the board in January, sided with him.
TUSD will seek a replacement for Morado, who oversees high schools, as well as for the assistant superintendent of K-8 schools position, which is currently occupied by Mark Alvarez on an interim basis, according to the interim superintendent.
Soto, the CFO, said she had planned to return to her position through the outsourcing firm, as Morado did, after her retirement this school year.
“Had I known then what I know now, I would have never submitted my retirement,” she said.
“I’m passionate about education,” she said, adding that she’d be seeking new employment. Her last day with TUSD was Wednesday.
Trujillo said in an interview that employees technically separate from the district when they submit for retirement.
“We then have responsibility to look at the budgetary situation and make a determination,” he said.
Soto’s deputy, Renee Weatherless, previously a senior director for finance, was named executive finance officer Tuesday. TUSD is consolidating the two finance administrators’ position into one.
Additionally, Janet Rico Uhrig, director of talent acquisition, was named executive human resources officer, which is not the same as chief human resources officer, a position held by Anna Maiden.
Maiden announced her resignation earlier this year after former Superintendent H.T. Sanchez’s departure from TUSD. The chief human resources officer position has been eliminated as a result of the consolidation.
That leaves the TUSD superintendent leadership team with two people, not including the interim superintendent: Stuart Duncan, chief operations officer, and Scott Morrison, chief technology officer.
Eighteen directors and administrators, including Trujillo, who is serving as both interim superintendent and assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, are now faced with uncertainty as their contracts guarantee their employment only through Dec. 15.
The contract language was drafted by an outside attorney after Stegeman asked to review the contracts. He pulled them out of consent agenda, which means the board would have voted on it as part of a package of items without public discussion, on May 23.
The new language was adopted Tuesday, days before the new contract year begins.
“I think there are a number of issues in the contracts,” Stegeman said. Most importantly, he said the district needed a mechanism to release those directors should a new superintendent want to pick his or her own team.
He added that he was satisfied with the consolidations in administration, though he believes more could be done.
“There were too many positions for the amount of work being done,” Stegeman said.