Despite a stated commitment to improve transparency in Tucson’s largest school district, the TUSD Governing Board rejected an initiative to beef up internal checks and balances.
TUSD Governing Board President Adelita Grijalva, Clerk Kristel Foster and member Cam Juarez killed a proposal Tuesday to create an internal auditor position to oversee potential organizational risks such as noncompliance, theft, inefficient practices or other unfavorable circumstances.
The issue has come before the Tucson Unified School District Governing Board repeatedly, with the district’s audit committee and two separate independent audits recommending it over the last six years.
While most members of the Governing Board have voiced different concerns on separate occasions about the position — questioning who the person would report to, how they would be selected, and how they would be evaluated — it appeared on Tuesday as if the five-member board might come together on a proposal that was drafted by members of both the minority and majority factions on the board.
Instead, Grijalva pointed to a proposed 5 percent cut to administration by Arizona’s new governor, Doug Ducey, saying the internal auditor would be yet another administrator.
Foster and Juarez echoed those sentiments, arguing that hiring someone who earns a salary of $70,000 to $90,000 would send the wrong message.
In explaining their reluctance to support the position, Foster and Juarez also noted that the district already employs an external audit firm and said the board should trust in its ability.
Members of that firm, however, acknowledged on Tuesday night they do not perform the same functions as an internal auditor would.
When it became clear that even Juarez, who collaborated with board member Mark Stegeman on the proposal, was prepared to shut down the effort, Stegeman questioned the board majority’s motives.
“If we, at this point now, do not do this, I think this will represent a kind of closure on this issue,” Stegeman said.
“I don’t know what interpretation there can be on this except that there is something — to be blunt — that we don’t want such a position digging into. … I think we have achieved a kind of clarity and I think there is something else going on.”
Juarez publicly shared he was suspicious of Stegeman being so willing to collaborate. Grijalva added that there is nothing sinister afoot, as Stegeman implied.
Board member Michael Hicks reminded his colleagues the district had spent $300,000 on an efficiency audit that called for the implementation of an internal audit function, and that the board committed to following the recommendations.
“Historically this board — whether it’s the makeup now or the makeup before us — has agreed to a lot of things that they have gone back on,” Juarez responded.