Mark Stegeman

Mark Stegeman

In her Nov. 19 opinion column (“TUSD board gives tutorial on how not to do salary review”) the Star’s Sarah Garrecht Gassen criticized the TUSD board’s recent 3-2 vote to request its Human Resources Department to review the pay grade of the director of staff services. This is currently the only employee (aside from the superintendent) who reports solely and directly to the board. Gassen portrays this action as vindictive.

This ignores the context of the vote.

The new board and superintendent have recently eliminated five senior administrative positions and reduced the salaries of several others. None of those changes has touched the board office, which is apart from the superintendent and solely the board’s responsibility. The board’s action is a first step toward checking the expense of that office. Salary reviews are a standard procedure; a superintendent-initiated review led to one of the recent salary reductions.

The board’s action is warranted because it is unusual for a director-level position to have only two subordinates. (The position’s salary of $79,000 also exceeds the maximum on the teachers’ pay scale.) I expect the board to respect the judgment of the HR department.

Gassen, while ignoring the recent administrative reductions, portrays this action as retaliatory, because the affected director filed a complaint against one board member earlier this year. That complaint was resolved amicably months ago, long before we learned that TUSD lost about 1,100 students year-over-year and must cut millions of dollars mid-year. The board cannot expect massive cuts from the rest of the administration, while refusing to contemplate an internal review that many in TUSD consider long overdue.

The huge budget shortfall implies much more to come. The board and superintendent agree that deep cuts should come from administrative positions rather than instruction. Scores or perhaps hundreds of positions face scrutiny, including the lower-ranked positions within the board office. The process will be painful, though everyone in leadership will work to minimize the pain and allocate it fairly.

Ignoring this larger context, Gassen spends two paragraphs extolling the work of the director of staff services. Such position-by-position praise for TUSD’s administrators could fill countless pages. Yet such isolated analysis ignores the acute aggregate budget problem.

By electing Rachael Sedgwick, a fresh candidate with a reform agenda, Tucson acknowledged TUSD’s need for big changes. The question now is not whether the new board will go too far, but whether it is willing to go far enough.

Sedgwick and I proposed in April that TUSD increase its instructional spending to 50 percent (still far below the 58.3 percent average of its six large peer Arizona districts), with further increases in subsequent years. This resolution could not gain a third vote. We have likewise failed in other attempts to trim unnecessary noninstructional spending. Yet the new board has shown courage and made progress in some areas. Dr. Gabriel Trujillo’s appointment as superintendent has, in itself, led to some significant improvements.

The Star’s editorial page has, meanwhile, largely focused on personalities and real or exaggerated internal conflicts in TUSD.

The Star could have better used the same editorial space weeks ago to discuss the bond and override measures that four local districts put to the voters. Instead it remained conspicuously silent. It is apparently easier to spot one bottle among the acres of educational issues, and throw a rock at it.

Mark Stegeman is a member of the TUSD Governing Board and an associate professor of economics at the Eller School at the University of Arizona. Contact him at markwstegeman@gmail.com