TUSD’s “Lessons from Geese” retreat

The only thing missing from the staging of last night’s Tucson Unified School Board “retreat” was melancholy background music, something along the lines of “Sunrise Sunset,” an ominous fall-turning-into-winter sky filled with geese in chevron flight, and a narrator reading the first line from Anna Karenina, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

At the last Board retreat this past October, the Board concluded that it was dysfunctional. They have not changed their assessment.

Rene Diaz, of the Arizona Hispanic School Administrators, once again facilitated the “retreat.” The theme for this session was “Lessons from Geese” and just like the first graders in the schools they oversee, each Board member read aloud lessons from their assigned primer. Board member Adelita Grijalva was assigned a line about honking and the “need to make sure our honking is encouraging and not discouraging.”

The encouraging honking didn’t last long and the members did not spend any time on the district’s business. Instead, the honking became discouraging to some of the Board members and most of the public.

“We reverted to back stabbing and sabotage” honked Miguel Cuevas. He then proceeded to honk out insults to Board president Stegeman, who was repeatedly prevented from honking by his employee; Superintendent Pedicone. After being beaten down by the incessant honking of John Pedicone, Stegeman the MIT PhD. honked “You are over my head with the distinctions John” and let his point drop.

Pedicone does not allow dissenting honking. He has divided the Board to conquer it and anyone trying to wrestle away the spot at the front of the chevron will be shut down. After each interruption of Stegeman and successful deflection of Stegeman’s issues, Pedicone’s grin was one of the cat who ate the bird, or in this case, the goose.

The need to keep the board’s collective “private” issues “out of tomorrow’s paper” was the main focus of the meeting. Demonstrating an alarming lack of knowledge of Arizona’s Open Meeting Laws, Diaz told the Board, “The meetings are meetings of the governing board and you allow the public to attend.”

Adelita honked, “I am really hesitant to be really honest,” in reference to public meeting discussions. Once again, she expressed a strong desire to have more of their public policy decision making behind closed doors far away from the public.

However, it is only Mark Stegeman, Adelita Grijalva and Michael Hicks who seem to understand their role as community leaders, governors, and representatives of the public. The failure to understand their role was apparent in Alexander Sugiyama’s inquiry as to whether the Board could hire an unelected facilitator to oversee Board meetings.

Sugiyama offered an unusual assessment of the Board’s difficulty with meetings. He said that they were, in part, a systems problem. He suggested that the layout of the Boardroom, the lighting, and the shape of the dais led to much of the Board’s difficulties with communication.

His assessment did not include the need for the public to elect governing board members who could conduct the people’s business without grownup supervision.

The Board was asked what an ideal board meeting would look like. Adelita ironically said that said that they would “complete all business.” Adelita was cheering the takeover by mostly college students that prevented the Board’s business from being completed last Spring. Hicks said that they would be “orderly and respectful.” Cuevas, with his busy social life, said that they would be “punctual.” They should “inspire confidence in the community that thoughtful decisions were made,” honked Sugiyama.