Burns admits to Open Meeting Law violations

A local news organization reported that Tucson Unified School Board member Judy Burns admitted that she had talked to two Board members about removing Board President Dr. Mark Stegeman from his leadership position in violation of Open Meeting Laws. This admission was made after a brief Governing Board meeting which was held at Stegeman’s insistence in order to maintain district oversight and transparency by community members.

The meeting was a result of Stegeman’s request that Technology Oversight Committee (TOC) members be officially voted in by the Board to serve the district. Stegeman requested the Special Meeting because staff errors had delayed the reappointment of the student member to the point that her term would run out before the next meeting of the committee. The Board also needed to appoint the community member who had just applied this week.

Earlier in the week during the TUSD Governing Board agenda meeting Superintendent Pedicone and Board member Judy Burns had unwittingly produced evidence of what appeared to be a violation the Open Meeting Law; a pre-prepared Board agenda. Although a decision had not officially made by the Agenda Committee, the Board’s office prepared a draft agenda that included the item, “Board Leadership (per request made via Judy Burns 8 ’12-11).” Clearly, Board members had decided on this agenda, or “meeting of the minds” prior to official discussion and vote by the Board. Due to Burns admission of the violation to the reporter, interested parties may file complaints.

There are two distinct Open Meeting Law (OML) issues here; one is whether three Board members discussed changing leadership; Judy’s comment appears to imply yes and others’ statements support her comments; that would be an OML violation as it pertains to the Board as a whole (a quorum making decisions outside of public view). The second separate issue is whether Burns and Pedicone discussed putting the leadership change on the agenda, and the printed agenda is startling evidence of that; that would be an OML violation as it pertains to the agenda committee (a quorum of Burns and Pedicone making a decision outside of public view).

Several TOC members have resigned this year after frustration with the way the committee has been marginalized, which created the need for the new appointment. Complaints emanating from the Superintendent’s office indicate that he would like to eliminate the TOC because the community members interfered with the ever growing administrative staff. Just this past year, John Gay the district’s Chief technology Officer has had to come to the Board time and time again for more monies due to errors and oversights of mostly past administrations. Unfortunately the Lawson contract, and all of the problems with it, has not been adequately addressed by administrative staff.

TUSD already has by far the highest spending per pupil on administration of any large Arizona district. The fact that Pedicone keeps adding administration is one of the major reason that TUSD students continue to fall further and further behind students in the rest of the state. This is, of course, a vicious cycle where more and more middle class families leave such an under performing district for the successful districts that surround it and the many charter schools in the area. Instead of buying off one of the local television stations with a $92,000 contract to market this failing district to white students, the Governing Board ought to be following Dr. Stegeman’s lead is seeking greater transparency and a greater focus on the regular classroom.