Arizona Daily Star columnist Tim Steller wrote accurately on Nov. 11 and Dec. 23 about the Tucson Unified School District’s mismanagement of its 40-year-old desegregation case, especially the recent fiasco surrounding magnet program funding. The responses of TUSD board officers Adelita Grijalva (Nov. 18) and Kristel Ann Foster (Dec. 20) in guest opinion columns confirm Steller’s points by accepting no responsibility, twisting facts and dismissing critics.
TUSD’s increasingly bizarre conduct in the case ensures that there are more and more critics to dismiss.
The board’s leadership, which governs through a three-member majority bloc, does not speak for the entire board. The public should also hear the minority voices. As a minority member, it is awkward to be accountable for decisions with which I disagree.
I propose a better two-part strategy for TUSD to get its desegregation program back on track and improve the prospects for release from court oversight.
1) Stop fighting the integration requirements of the Unitary Status Plan.
This is the plan that the federal court, district and plaintiffs first agreed to that would lead to the end of the desegregation court case.
Grijalva argues that “implementation of the USP should start with something like the Hippocratic Oath: ‘First do no harm’.” No; the first requirement is to follow the law. Judge David Bury ruled a year ago: “A Magnet Plan is not a funding mechanism; it is a mechanism to improve integration.”
Foster writes that TUSD’s endless court filings seek only “clarification.” The judge apparently sees it differently. In July 2014, he noted (in boldface) “the aggressive, legalistic positions recently asserted by TUSD.”
Bury’s rulings rarely need clarification. Concerning the magnet programs, he wrote a year ago, “It is not as if TUSD does not know what needs to be done. Each of the existing 20 magnet schools/programs have been critiqued regarding their deficiencies since 2011, with detailed annual recommendations spelled out ... .”
The current board approved the USP by a 3-2 vote in 2013. (Board member Michael Hicks and I voted “no.”) Now it is the law. Follow it.
2) Stop insulting and ignoring the plaintiffs and court-appointed Special Master.
Special master Willis Hawely has been assigned by Bury to oversee the desegregation process.
Grijalva suggests that Hawley wants to defund programs that are “too brown,” which is inaccurate and insults his lifelong commitment to equity for minority students. Such pettiness embarrasses TUSD.
Litigation costs have jumped mainly because the board acts almost as if the USP and plaintiffs do not exist. Then their only recourse is to go to court.
The proposed expansion of Sabino High School illustrates that pattern. Bury blocked the board’s decision to add grades 7-8, because TUSD had inadequately consulted the plaintiffs. After those consultations, the plaintiffs and Hawley opposed the expansion. Undeterred, the board voted 3-2 to proceed and resolve the issue in court. I voted “no” (with Hicks) because, regardless of whether the expansion makes sense, TUSD should show it cares about opinions other than its own.
Another example occurred in October, when the desegregation parties convened a 1½-day conference to resolve differences. The Mendoza plaintiffs, attorneys and Hawley flew to Tucson, and the Justice Department participated by telephone. I attended most of the conference, as much as my University of Arizona responsibilities would allow.
Foster, who wrote that “trying to work with everyone involved in the desegregation case has been the most disheartening and frustrating part of this job,” missed the event. Remarkably, so did Superintendent Sanchez, though the meetings occurred upstairs from his office. This was insulting.
The conference was productive, however. The Mendoza plaintiffs, the most consistent advocates for TUSD’s magnet programs, took a statesmanlike role and brokered a compromise keeping the programs funded for one more year. That occurred despite TUSD’s turning the issue into a political circus.
TUSD needs more such conferences. It is harder to treat people badly when they sit across from you. Better cooperation could lead to better uses of desegregation funds, such as more advanced placement courses and targeted class-size reductions. It is time for TUSD to play nicely.