H.T. Sanchez

Tucson Unified School District Superintendent H.T. Sanchez 

Mamta Popat Arizona Daily Star

TUSD officials say a judge’s characterization that the district has become more aggressive and less collaborative is “untrue” and have asked that the statement be struck from the court record.

The request is part of a motion filed by the district’s lawyer, which says U.S. District Judge David C. Bury’s statement “could not be further from the truth,” and also asks that Bury rethink his decision to appoint legal counsel to the special master overseeing desegregation efforts.

Bury kept his response to the 18-page motion terse, denying the request, saying, “There is no manifest error of law … A motion for reconsideration should not be used to ask a court to ‘rethink what the court (has) already thought through, rightly or wrongly.’”

TUSD’s motion stems from a July order in which Bury appointed an attorney to the desegregation expert he assigned to oversee the district’s efforts. In his order, Bury noted that the special master needed counsel because the district had moved away from working collaboratively with the plaintiffs, instead adopting a more “aggressive, legalistic” approach.

Tucson Unified School District, however, argues there is nothing in the court record to suggest a lack of collaboration.

“It is extremely unfair and prejudicial for the court to make such a statement part of the record of TUSD’s compliance,” the district’s motion read.

The district also took time on Tuesday at its Governing Board meeting — before Bury’s ruling was filed — to highlight examples of collaboration, and explain the process to develop desegregation plans which involves creating the plan, providing a draft to the plaintiffs and special master for review and feedback, district response and, in many cases, revisions to the plans.

“This is a very extensive and ongoing, iterative process,” said TUSD legal counsel Patricia V. Waterkotte of Rusing Lopez & Lizardi. “There’s nothing in (the Unitary Status Plan) that requires this kind of significant joint development that we have voluntarily agreed to, but we still do it.

“Unfortunately, even with all of that collaboration, sometimes at the end of the day, TUSD and the plaintiffs can’t always agree on everything.”

Added TUSD Superintendent H.T. Sanchez: “It’s not the philosophy of the district to say ‘this is how we’re going to do it and we’re not going to change our mind.’ It’s great if we can all can sit down and read it the same way. Sometimes it happens, but more often than not, it’s part of being a thoughtful member of a group working to capture what is the in the best interest of the students we all serve.”

TUSD Governing Board Member Kristel Ann Foster expressed concerns about the district’s standing in the case and the mounting tensions.

“We shouldn’t have to prove we’re collaborating,” Foster said. “It should be actions, and the outcomes need to move in a different direction. I feel like we’re fighting rather than collaborating. How can we collaborate and get results?”

Waterkotte noted the district’s approach has resulted in many big initiatives being accomplished over the last year, and disagreements are not over TUSD’s willingness to comply with the court order, but over what the best practices are. In his annual report on the status of progress in implementing the district’s plan to achieve racial balance, Special Master Willis Hawley agreed much has been achieved but noted that there is a need to improve the collaborative working relationships.

“Despite substantial progress that has been made on the vast majority of issues addressed in the (plan), public characterizations of the USP, the plaintiffs, the special master and the court as impediments to progress in TUSD could create a climate that would negatively affect effective implementation going forward,” he said.

Legal fees

Other updates in the 40-year-old case include Bury granting a portion of attorney’s fees for the plaintiffs. TUSD disputed a request for a combined $2.2 million in attorney fees for the Latino and African-American plaintiffs.

Before the ruling was issued, as a gesture of good faith TUSD paid $250,000 to each of the parties, but will have to pay more under an order filed last week.

The Latino plaintiffs, who requested more than $683,000, were awarded $475,000 in fees. The fees for the African American plaintiffs, who sought $1.5 million, were not decided, but Bury did rule they are not entitled to fees charged between 1983 and 2004. Both parties were ordered to go to a settlement conference. Significant reductions were made based on lowering and capping attorney’s fees.

Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at ahuicochea@tucson.com or 573-4175. On Twitter @AlexisHuicochea

Education writer for #ThisIsTucson. Mom of one.