Tucson Unified School District board member Mark Stegeman announced his resignation Thursday mid-term after 11 years on the board, effective immediately.
“I came onto the board with a vision for TUSD, a very ambitious vision,” he said later Thursday in an interview with the Arizona Daily Star. “I felt and still feel it could be the best district in the Tucson region, that it should be able to compete with any charter or private school if it’s run in a way that maximizes its potential ... and I still think it’s all possible, but I don’t see the road.”
He announced his decision Thursday afternoon on the Bill Buckmaster Show on KVOI.
Stegeman is a University of Arizona economics professor and has been on the board since 2008, serving as its president at various times.
He says although he loves TUSD, his day of resignation was one of his happiest in the last decade.
He says he resigned for “two-and-a-half reasons.” First, he doesn’t think TUSD is capable of the massive reform he thinks it needs to be competitive with other districts and charter schools.
The changes he thinks the district needs include an overhaul of certain administrative departments; and restructuring of high schools, the compensation and evaluation structure of teachers and principals and the systematic process of employee input.
He also calls for reducing class sizes in the lower grades, better professional development, having a culture of compliance with policy and statute, complying with open meeting law, and focusing more on academic achievement.
Stegeman’s second reason is his family. He has two children under 3 years old and says it’s because of them he decided to resign mid-term.
“Every hour I spend with TUSD is an hour I’m not spending with my little children, and if I really thought I was having a big impact, then I can manage that trade-off,” he said. “But if I don’t feel like I’m having a big impact on TUSD then I’d rather spend that time with my kids, and I don’t need to wait 15 months to do that.”
And his last reason, which he called “half a reason,” is the feeling of bearing the responsibility for everything that happens in the district.
“A lot of things happen in TUSD that aren’t all that good, and the sense of accountability for everything that happens … it wears on you,” he said. “The sense that when something bad happens, I’m on the top of the food chain and in some sense, I’m accountable.”
Stegeman says the long and contentious battle over TUSD updating its sex ed curriculum had nothing to do with his seemingly sudden resignation. In fact, he knew he was going to resign months ago and says he told the county schools superintendent of his intentions about six months ago.
Stegeman says he was waiting to wrap up a few key issues.
What happens next
Pima County Schools Superintendent Dustin Williams is responsible for deciding how to select a new board member to finish out Stegeman’s term, which ends at the close of 2020.
The TUSD governing board has 30 days to submit three names for consideration, but Williams isn’t required to choose one of the board’s recommendations. He also has the option of calling a special election to fill the vacancy.
“I would like to personally thank Dr. Stegeman for his service towards education in the Tucson Unified School District,” Williams said in a statement. “I wish him much success on his new endeavors. Our office will help expedite the governing board vacancy process going forward.”
The TUSD board consists of five members, with staggered non-partisan elections every two years. The board will be down to four members until a replacement is appointed. It is not uncommon for the board’s vote to be split 3-2, with Stegeman and board member Rachael Sedgwick losing the vote.
Sedgwick says Stegeman told her about his decision after Wednesday’s meeting, and she was surprised. She knew there was a chance he might not run for reelection but thought that he would finish out his term.
Sedgwick said she’s nervous about who will be appointed and hopes Williams will appoint someone who is more focused on issues rather than politics, as well as having a knowledge of public schools, TUSD, the district’s budget and the desegregation order it operates under.
Board President Adelita Grijalva, who has been on the board for 16 years and has three children in TUSD, says she feels optimistic that Stegeman’s resignation will be better for the board and the district.
“I’m glad he acknowledges that he just is not the best representative for the district, and his children do not attend our schools,” she said. “So him acknowledging that and walking away — I’m glad that he chose to do that.”