The Arizona Daily Star endorses Mark Stegeman, Betts Putnam-Hidalgo and Ralph Ellinwood for the Tucson Unified School District Governing Board.

Out of a field of 12 candidates vying for three seats, these are the contenders we believe offer the best combination of experience to lead Tucson's largest school district.

The board has a difficult charge to set policy for a district that spans the Tucson area, and has schools in some parts of town that are bursting at the seams and others that are half-empty. Students in some schools are doing quite well, while others are struggling academically.

The district also has entrenched constituent groups, and change is slow to take hold. We believe this trio will provide the combination of board experience, new perspectives and common sense that will benefit TUSD.

Those who follow TUSD have felt the absence of the late Judy Burns, who spent a decade on the board and 15 years before that volunteering in classrooms and on committees. Her name has been mentioned frequently during this campaign, and for good reason.

Every board needs a Judy Burns - a person who asks questions, isn't satisfied with pat answers and digs into issues.

We believe that Putnam-Hidalgo will fill that role. She's smart, engaged and has a good sense of what's going on at schools. She got involved when the district talked about closing her child's school. She's been on the school site council and on the districtwide parent and community committee.

Stegeman is running for re-election. While we anticipate that he and Putnam-Hidalgo may disagree on some issues - Mexican American Studies, for example - we believe that dynamic ultimately leads to better decisions.

Stegeman made enemies when he tried to change the Mexican American Studies courses from credit courses to electives. It was a vain attempt to stave off action from the Arizona Department of Education and the Legislature, but it failed and caused deep divisions within the district. He did not engage the community as he should have, to be sure, but we remain convinced that the true bad actors in that debacle are the Republican lawmakers who targeted TUSD's program for political gain.

That said, Stegeman immerses himself in the details of issues - he is an economist, after all - and he does not come to positions without a great deal of research and thought. He is not afraid to be unpopular, and we think that while his approach may aggravate other board members and TUSD employees, it ultimately benefits kids.

The TUSD board needs to make a change, however. Two incumbents, Miguel Cuevas and Alexandre B. Sugiyama (he was appointed to fill out Burns' term), are running.

While both have the district's best interests at heart, it is time for a new perspective.

Ellinwood has been active at Tucson High School and is a TUSD parent and grandparent. He has said he wants to pay special attention to young students, because if a child can't read well by third grade, that child is behind for the rest of his or her education. Research backs this up, and it's a smart long-term focus.

His even-tempered demeanor and thoroughness would be an asset to the Governing Board, which will have to face unpopular decisions - on budgets or school closures, to name two - as it figures out how to marshal resources to improve education. Ellinwood's openness to efforts that have worked elsewhere - such as holding classes on Saturdays - is laudible.

We believe that Ellinwood, Putnam-Hidalgo and Stegeman are the best choices for the Tucson Unified School District Governing Board.

EndorsEment: Tucson unified school District

Arizona Daily Star