SPECIAL REPORT: DESEGREGATION, 3 DECADES LATER

Part 1: What has $1 billion bought our kids?

Results mixed, money hard to trace, taxpayers still foot the bill
2010-01-31T00:00:00Z 2014-07-05T03:42:05Z Part 1: What has $1 billion bought our kids? Rhonda Bodfield and Tim Steller Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

1974: Black and Hispanic parents in the Tucson Unified School District had a long list of complaints about the quality of education their children were receiving.

There were distinct Anglo schools and distinct minority schools.

Minority students were far less likely to score well on tests.

And they were more likely to be punished.

2010: After 36 years of litigation and roughly $1 billion in taxpayer money spent desegregating TUSD schools, black and Hispanic parents still have a long list of complaints about the quality of education their children are receiving.

There are still distinct Anglo schools and distinct minority schools.

Minority students are still less likely than Anglo students to score well on tests.

And they're still more likely to be disciplined.

And district taxpayers? They're still paying extra property taxes to try to solve those problems, even though a federal judge lifted the desegregation order in December, saying TUSD had met its goals and had a satisfactory plan to move forward without court oversight.

The vast investment in desegregation did buy a number of things through the decades.

Money was sunk into magnet programs - schools with special programs designed to lure students and get different races to mingle voluntarily. It paid for extra teachers and some teacher training. It paid for multicultural classes, including Raza and African-American studies.

But overall, where the money has gone has been notoriously difficult to track and full of debatable decisions. It's been used to pay for everything from a portion of the superintendent's expenses to filing cabinets, copiers and janitorial services. It has gone to schools like the academic-standout University High, which still doesn't sit right with some who want to see the money go to struggling schools in minority corridors.

The only time the state Auditor General's Office reviewed the district's desegregation expenditures, in 1990, it found TUSD spent money on things that weren't related to the court order. But reviewers were stymied because they couldn't ferret out the district's way of calculating expenditures.

The district's vision for the future may be just as nebulous, full of big ideas but little funding to make them happen, and no guarantees.

Some things will look the same: Many kids still won't be able to attend their neighborhood schools, at least not immediately, and TUSD will rely on special programs to lure students across the city and diversify campuses.

But some things may be different: The district has a specific plan to improve education for minority students, with ways to boost their numbers in gifted classes and help them navigate school with stronger mentoring.

District advocates say desegregation in Tucson was a success when you look through the prism of history.

"You have to put it in the context of the time," said Mary Belle McCorkle, a former TUSD administrator and board member who helped design the district's magnet program. "There were cities all over the country that were ordered to be desegregated, and there were riots, protests. In Tucson there was none of that.

"This wasn't a localized situation. We just handled it better than most."

That doesn't mean it was comfortable for everyone.

Maria Saavedra, a student who was bused in the 1980s, said as a kid she didn't understand the significance of what was going on. Overall, she said, it was positive because she had more exposure to students from different backgrounds. But still, she said, "Everybody was being judged because of race."

"It was a sense of just not good enough, or a sense of envy perhaps. Sometimes there was a bit of tension. We were 'the bused kids.' "

All these years later, plaintiff groups remain dissatisfied with the outcome.

"The vestiges of segregation haven't gone away. They're still there," said Eddie Contreras, a computer technician who is part of the group of Hispanic plaintiffs that has appealed the judge's release. One of his nephews was put in a special-education class, he said - a decision the family thought had more to do with his ethnicity than with skill levels. Concerned, his parents enrolled him in another district, where he ended up in the honors program and has now graduated college.

"Based on the amount of money afforded to the district, you'd think there would have been stronger programs to rectify these things," Contreras said, "but the problems still haven't been fixed."

Black plaintiffs, too, are disappointed. "It's hard for me to pinpoint any particular success from the black standpoint," said Rubin Salter Jr., the attorney who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the NAACP and black parents in 1974.

"What bothers me most about this is that I really question if the district acted in good faith. They did as little as they could and to the extent they complied, they did so grudgingly."

Sent to distant schools

As vast as the effort is today - with 17 percent of TUSD's $380 million budget coming from desegregation funds that touch 55 schools - it started out pretty small.

In 1978, U.S. District Judge William Frey determined that just nine schools had vestiges of the old system that split black and Anglo students, or still showed some effects of past segregation. He ordered the district to begin desegregation efforts.

With plaintiffs threatening to appeal the decision, the two sides came to an 11-page settlement that expanded the number of schools to 21.

It also limited student transfers if they adversely impacted racial balance at any school.

That sometimes worked against minority students in the western and central parts of the city. Many black and Hispanic students were bused to schools on the east side in an effort to integrate them, as a result missing out on new magnet options in their neighborhood schools, said Laura Banks-Reed, who worked as a teacher, principal and assistant superintendent in TUSD for 39 years, up to 1982.

"That was the thing that hurt me the most - that our kids, by and large, were not privy to the magnet-school curriculum even though they lived there," she said.

Kids sometimes still can't go where they want. When Kathleen Arterberry and her daughter moved to their apartment on the east side in late 2008, part of her choice was based on the fact that there was an elementary school and a middle school on the very same street.

She figured her daughter, Skye Johnson, now 12, would go to Erickson Elementary and then head down the road to Carson for sixth through eighth grades.

But last year she discovered that because of desegregation agreements, Skye was assigned to Utterback Magnet Middle School - approximately seven miles from home.

TUSD officials told the two there were "too many white people living in your neighborhood," Arterberry said, and that as a result, students were being assigned to Utterback.

"My daughter wanted nothing more than to get up, go to school, run on the track team and be picked up by a bus like every other student," Arterberry said. "But what she took from that conversation at the school was that because she was white, she could not go to the school she wanted to - the one that is on the same street I live on."

Arterberry petitioned for her daughter to go to nearby Carson, but because the school isn't her assigned one, she wasn't eligible for busing.

A single mother, Arterberry's work schedule kept her from driving her daughter to school, so Skye bikes. The mile-and-a-half ride during morning rush hour takes her across a busy six-lane road without a crossing guard.

Segregation stays with us

TUSD officials point to demographic changes when asked why schools still aren't integrated. While the district had a 30 percent minority-student population when the lawsuit was filed, today, it's 70 percent.

A 1995 audit found that the desegregation schools were meeting their racial balance targets about 66 percent of the time. Manzo Elementary, as well as Mansfeld and Maxwell middle schools, for example, never met diversity targets. Today, Manzo is 96 percent minority, Mansfeld is 90 percent and Maxwell is 95 percent.

And it's like that all over the community. While central schools are fairly mixed, the east side's Collier and Fruchthendler elementaries are roughly three-quarters Anglo. The farthest east high school, Sabino, is nearly 76 percent Anglo. Meanwhile, Anglo students make up 4 percent of Pueblo Magnet High School's student body on the south side.

In all, 28 schools are at least 90 percent minority, not counting alternative schools. Another 10 are more than 60 percent Anglo - even though Anglo students make up only 30 percent of TUSD's overall student body.

To understand the mixed results of desegregation, consider Safford Middle School, 200 E. 13th St.

In 1974, Safford's student body was 87 percent minority. Under the original 1978 settlement of the lawsuits, the district was to either close Safford or integrate it.

Ordered through the years to reach an Anglo enrollment of 30 percent, the school never succeeded, said principal Terry Ross, who has been an administrator there for 15 years. The closest it came was about 23 percent, she said, and it's now about 93 percent minority.

Anglo families are interested in the school's technology and engineering magnet program, Ross said, but most simply live too far away.

"They're always excited when they come to our school (for visits), but the bus ride's a killer. So unless the parent worked nearby and could drop them off, they wouldn't come," Ross said.

There aren't comparable data for student achievement between the 1970s and today, but recent test scores show mixed results. While Safford reached a performing-plus label last year, it spent the previous two years as an underperforming school.

Still, there have been other benefits, Ross said, noting six teachers in the engineering and technology program are paid with desegregation money.

Middle-school students must take engineering or technology classes every semester on topics such as video technology, architecture, and Web site building.

Achievement gaps persist

The 223-page ruling that put TUSD under a desegregation order in 1978 barely addressed a key issue in the debate: the achievement gap between Anglo and minority students.

The ruling noted that the district proved it spent more per capita in schools with the highest percentages of minority students. But it said those students continued to yield lower test scores and have higher disciplinary and dropout rates than their Anglo counterparts.

For TUSD's attorney, Dick Yetwin, the controlling document is the 11-page settlement from 1978. It has no specific reference to achievement, he said, and while the district has focused on trying to shrink those differences over time, the gap is a phenomenon that has plagued districts across the country.

Yetwin said the driving force is poverty - but it affects minority communities because of a correlation with socioeconomic status. "If there was a magic bullet, every district would have solved the problem by now," he said.

Sylvia Campoy, the head of an independent citizen commission that's watched over the effort for three decades, contends there are references in the settlement document that do make passing references to equity.

"It has never been just about the movement of brown, black and white children," she said.

The district's own consultants red-flagged some of those outstanding issues in 1995.

When it looked at how students performed in science, for example, 27 percent of Anglo high school students taking those classes earned A's. For black and Hispanic students, those numbers were 10 percent and 11 percent.

Anglo and Asian-American students at the time were overrepresented in gifted programs, while Hispanic, black and American Indian students were underrepresented.

"If you don't know the problems exist, that's one thing," Campoy said. "But if you know there are disparities and you continue with the same things and continue getting the same results, that's conscious discrimination to me."

Campoy, a product of TUSD, remembers being sent to the basement in first grade to learn English in a special-education class. It spawned for her a passion for civil rights. The more balanced a school is both racially and by socioeconomic status, she contends, the greater the chance that academic achievement will soar and the teaching staff will be stable.

Take Rose Elementary, which is 98 percent minority. Eight of its 22 teachers were hired in the past three years. Collier, on the east side, which is nearly 72 percent Anglo, received only one new teacher in that time period. More than half of its staff has been there since the 1980s.

"What's sad to me is that we're still fighting about the same things that we were fighting then," Campoy said.

Critics say a big failing is that TUSD never established any benchmarks to determine if it met its goals.

That lack of study was noted by the court, which said the district failed to make even "the most basic inquiries" on how its programs were working and never presented evidence that the changes were effective.

"Any success would have been mere coincidence," it said.

Even so, Kevin Brown, an attorney at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law whose academic speciality is desegregation, said the plaintiffs will have an uphill battle from a legal standpoint. Courts have said an achievement gap, in and of itself, isn't a vestige of segregation.

He said the overall desegregation effort probably has led to a more integrated America, evidenced by more interracial marriages and even a black president.

"But when you talk about this substantial increase in academic performance - that just did not happen."

The Kansas City school system, for example, ended up in receivership after spending $1 billion on desegregating.

John O'Dowd, an attorney involved in the Tucson High site council, said the local effort has been a mix of good and bad. Despite poor oversight and money management, many individual students have had success.

O'Dowd then puzzles over something that has no answer and that has plagued advocates and critics alike.

"The question is, as bad as it has been, how much worse might it have have been had it not been for the funding?"

Teacher Ethnicity

1973-74: About 3 percent of the teaching staff was black. Only 22 percent of black teachers taught in Anglo schools. It should have been 62 percent by random assignment.

Also, almost 8 percent of the teaching staff was Hispanic, at a time when 25 percent of the student body was Hispanic.

2009: There were 3,501 teachers. Anglo: 71 percent; Hispanic: 24 percent; black: 3 percent; American Indian: 1 percent; Asian 1 percent

Student Achievement

1974: TUSD officials and the judge acknowledged minority students didn't fare as well academically but had no explanation for it and didn't quantify the gap. District officials noted that dropout rates were particularly high at Pueblo and Tucson high schools, which were then predominantly minority schools. Plaintiffs argued that minority students were disproportionately assigned to basic coursework and tracked into vocational programs.

2009: Many of those gaps continue to persist.

Graduation rate

Asian-American 92 percent

Anglo 87 percent

Hispanic 76 percent

Black 76 percent

American Indian 70 percent

Predominantly white east side high schools Sabino and Sahuaro each report graduation rates of more than 94 percent. Pueblo and Cholla high schools, on the south and west sides, respectively, report graduation rates of nearly 79 percent.

Advanced Placement classes taken by race/ethnicity

Asian-American 30 percent

Anglo 21 percent

Hispanic 9 percent

Black 8 percent

American Indian 6 percent

Gifted and Talented Education enrollment by race/ethnicity

Hispanic 46 percent

Anglo 40 percent

Asian-American 6 percent

Black 5 percent

American Indian 3 percent

Who gets A's

Eighth-grade English, 2008-09

Asian-American 48 percent

Anglo 30 percent

Black 24 percent

Hispanic 19 percent

American-Indian 8 percent

Eighth-grade math:

Asian-American 29 percent

Anglo 21 percent

Black 21 percent

Hispanic 16 percent

American-Indian 7 percent

Contact reporters: Rhonda Bodfield at 573-4243 or rbodfield@azstarnet.com and Tim Steller at 807-8427 or tsteller@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Activate

Follow the Arizona Daily Star

Featured businesses

View more...

Deals, offers & events

View more...

Event Calendar

Today's events | Add an event

Most viewed:


Get weekly ads via e-mail