In his Nov. 11 column the Star’s Tim Steller accuses the Tucson Unified School District of perpetrating a “lie” about the risks to its magnet programs, but nowhere does he identify what the “lie” is. The content of his narrative does not match his fantastic headline. He also does a disservice to those families who have rallied to keep some wonderful programs.
Yes, families have rallied. It is families and community activists who organized this effort and invited TUSD leadership, not the other way around.
To support his position, Steller has reached across a political divide that has nothing to do with desegregation. He cites essentially two sources, one of them a repeated unsuccessful board candidate.
The other, my fellow Governing Board member Michael Hicks. This is the same Governing Board member who, on June 10, 2014 during a public board meeting, said of the plaintiffs in this case, “This has been a little slush fund for some individuals for a long, long time. I don’t believe they’re going to give up this reign of terror any time soon.” He has regularly voted against programs and expenditures associated with our desegregation efforts.
Regarding Steller’s quite ironic accusations of “misinformation,” perhaps some recent history is in order.
In early September, the special master, who is appointed by the federal court to oversee the district’s efforts to resolve the desegregation case, sent a memo to all of the members of the Governing Board identifying schools for which he intended to ask the court to withdraw their magnet status. Almost all of those programs are located in predominately Latino communities where a high number of children live in poverty. His reason? The schools are too brown.
There was an outcry. Schools begged for another year to work under the so-called “improvement plans” that were developed in consultation with the Special Master only last spring. Why make a magnet school develop a special plan if it is not going to be given at least a school year to implement it?
Some say, “Well, you can still fund them some other way even if they are not magnets.” Of course that would be our wish, but how? One does not have to read many headlines to understand the funding crisis for Arizona schools. It is precisely these schools’ magnet status that has entitled them to maintain additional funding.
Our implementation of the Unitary Status Plan should start with something like the Hippocratic Oath: “First do no harm.”
Withdrawing quality magnet programs from predominantly Latino neighborhoods does not satisfy this test. Nor will it make those schools more integrated. To the contrary, it would leave schools more racially concentrated than ever.
What an irony that this case, first filed on behalf of Latino families seeking educational equity for their children, would drive such a result. And the elimination of these programs is not, as Steller suggests, anywhere mandated by the Unitary Status Plan. The plan of today is not the same as the plan of 40 years ago. It is not written in concrete and has changed substantially over the decades that the district has been under this court order.
Steller declares that Latino parents aren’t being represented by school board members and the superintendent. Try as I might, I never said I represent all 30,824 TUSD Latino students and their parents in this court case. Latinos are not one homogeneous group and are diverse in opinions and educational needs. I do feel that one un-elected “plaintiff’s rep” cannot possibly speak for all Latino students.
I do not apologize for my advocacy for all families, including Latino families. This is no place to let unrelated political divisions drive a wedge. In a school district that is largely Latino, we should all be demanding the best for these historical programs.