Dear supporters, correspondents, and the Tucson community,
Many of you already know that I will run for a third term on the TUSD board.
My primary concern, when first joining the board, was that many high school graduates entering UA lack the skills to succeed after 12,000 hours of K-12 education. (I see this in my classes at UA and as a member of the university’s General Education Committee.) Eventually I realized that Tucson’s students and their families, teachers, businesses, the higher education community, and taxpayers all suffer from TUSD’s low expectations and inefficiency. The current board majority serves mainly as cheerleaders for the superintendent, and the problems remain. Fixing them is critical for all students’ futures and for Tucson’s economic health. We should stand together in demanding better.
TUSD does have recent successes. It has made progress toward developing a coherent curriculum, though progress is uneven and there is far to go. Many schools express gratitude for the recent purchases of “leveled” reading libraries and more computers on wheels. TUSD has many exemplary teachers and principals, and some TUSD schools (not just University High School) perform very well.
Yet despite these bright spots, TUSD has deep cultural and structural problems. These include:
Abusive and disruptive student behavior, which damages the educational climate in many schools. I wrote about this in an earlier letter (attached). This causes teachers and families to flee.
High and rising administrative costs, which deprive schools of much-needed resources. Over the past two years the number of central administrators has grown by 22%, and money spent on instruction (“classroom spending”) has sunk to an all-time low of 48.7% of the budget. Six other Arizona districts have more than 30,000 students, and they spend from 57% to over 61% on instruction. (Sources: TUSD’s external auditors; the state Auditor General’s office.)
The superintendent’s compensation is part of higher administrative costs. Last year the board majority (Grijalva, Foster, Juarez) raised his pay for the current year by about 27%. If he again gets his full bonus then his compensation will be $443,100, plus 50 paid vacation days that can be redeemed for $1,000 per day if unused. He is, by far, the highest-paid superintendent in Arizona. TUSD’s performance does not justify this.
TUSD has also lost financial credibility. At the end of the year TUSD’s leadership publicly claimed to have spent about 50.2% in the classroom, but the Auditor General’s report shows that this was off by more than $5 million. The board majority ejected two senior members of the volunteer audit committee and secretly packed it with spouses of employees, violating the committee’s charter. Moreover, the board has for years stalled the hiring of an internal auditor, ignoring the recommendations of two management audits.
Falling enrollment. Over the past three years, the Auditor General reports that TUSD lost, sequentially: 1.6%, 2.8% (the year that many schools closed), and last year 1.8% of its students. Earlier losses were magnified by major charter school expansions and people leaving Tucson during the great recession. What is the excuse now?
Of the seven largest districts in Arizona (the peer group cited above), only TUSD has large ongoing enrollment losses. Taken as a whole, the other six districts added students last year. Four of those districts were last rated “A” by the state and two were rated “B.” TUSD has always earned a “C.”
Misplaced priorities. The current board majority, which gave the superintendent a 100% score on every goal and has an unprecedented record of voting as a bloc, shows little inclination to address or even acknowledge these problems. The culture of self-congratulation buries bad news, dissenting viewpoints, and even questions.
The board’s misplaced priorities appear in its much-touted strategic plan (tusd1.org/contents/distinfo/ fiveyear/Documents/StrategicPlanComplete.pdf). In 65 pages the plan sets no standards for student achievement, barely mentions enrollment, and never mentions the desegregation case or issues related to bullying and school climate. (The board never voted on the complete plan, because Michael Hicks and refused to accept it.)
One member of the majority, when announcing her reelection bid, put an invitation to a school discipline summit at the White House at the top of TUSD’s “accomplishment” list. The irony is great. Priorities are misaligned and rhetoric is disconnected from reality. Fluff and glitter have replaced substance.
I have attached a 100-day plan, which a new board could realistically achieve. The first point is to listen to all employee groups, and the broader community, through serious and open-ended surveys. Other points include reducing class sizes at the early grades and getting a much higher share of funds into the classroom. Raising instructional spending to 54-55%, still below Arizona’s other large districts, would be an increase of about $25 million per year, or about $1,000 per teacher. The board majority has explicitly rejected (usually by 3-2 votes) reducing K-1 class sizes, setting instructional spending targets, and other points in the plan. I will continue to fight for these things. I cannot speak for her, but I have a good relationship with new board candidate Lori Riegel. I believe that she shares my concerns and supports the points in the plan.
Change is essential, and change is possible. TUSD’s award for “Green Partner of the Year” is commendable, but TUSD most needs higher student achievement, safer schools, and rising enrollment. Under a new board, TUSD can again become a point of civic pride and draw families and businesses back to central Tucson. My website is stegeman4tusd.com. More information will be posted there in the coming weeks. There are many ways to help, and the website allows you to indicate which ones make sense for you. Thank you for your consideration and your interest in TUSD. At this time, fixing TUSD may be Tucson’s most critical need. I respectfully ask for your support and your vote.