Today outgoing Tucson Unified School District Deputy Superintendent Yousef Awwad notified the Governing Board members that the District is facing a $15 million deficit. Awwad, who announced his departure from the District last month, responded today to an inquiry made by Board member Michael Hicks.
It was well-known at the time of Awwad’s resignation that he and other administrators were privately concerned about the direction Superintendent H.T. Sanchez and Board president Adelita Grijalva were taking the District.
“I have not had a chance to review the information fully, but it appears to indicate that TUSD is operating at a deficit that has been building for some time,” wrote Stegeman to constituents today. “The fact that district leadership called a press conference less than five hours later, including a press release from the board president, seems in itself to indicate the gravity of the situation.”
Stegeman noted that he could not “offer detailed comments until I have a chance to review the data more carefully, but it appears that the imbalance did not arise overnight. This raises the possibility of problems in financial management extending back many months.”
Stegeman concluded that he was “concerned that the superintendent had not advised the board about this situation, that the information came only through direct communication from Mr. Awwad. I am also concerned that the board president appears to be announcing what actions the board will take, before the board has had a chance to review the situation.”
Grijalva claimed that she called the press conference to depoliticize the news of the imbalance because she is facing re-election. She said she did not want anyone to use the news against her. However the press release reads in part: “In addition, the District wants to make the community aware of the importance of Proposition 301 and the upcoming elections.”
Earlier this year, Hicks requested financial information from the District related to the Early Learning Centers and received no detailed information about the financial commitment from the District. On September 23, after Hicks became very concerned about what he believed was a gross failure in accountability and transparency by the District and Board leadership, he sent an inquiry to Awwad.
Today Awwad responded by email:
“I have put together the attached estimates. The picture does not look good for FY2016. Come July 1st 2015 I am estimating that we will be in a deficit position of about $15 million. For the current fiscal year FY2014-2015, we will barely meet the budgeted expenditures, last fiscal year FY2013-14, we overspent our budget by about $5 million.”
Based on my analysis I recommend the following:
• Monitor the expenditures and place hiring freeze by January 1st if our actuals are in line with our budget.
• You may want to consider specific measures to reduce the budget for Next Fiscal year in the next few months. The amount should be determined based on how much the state will fund schools for the court order.
• Our Capital funding is at risk, I suggest we freeze capital spending immediately and monitor the expenditures closely to ensure that the district does not over spent its capacity.”
“Under our current Board leadership, the secrecy has increased at nearly the same rate as our enrolment has declined,” said Hicks. “I have been stonewalled every step of the way in my attempts to get to the truth behind our financial and legal situations. As we have seen today with Ms. Grijalva’s announcement that the “District plans to seek financial analysis from an outside expert,” unilateral decisions are made without regard to the rest of the board, the taxpayers, teachers, parents, and students.”
“I will not sit idly by while the District leadership finds an “expert” who will explain away the failure. Ms. Grijalva claims that she does not want this to become a political issue, however it is because the leadership continues to focus on political not financial calculations that we are where we are today.”
Under Grijalva’s leadership, Sanchez was hired quickly from a Texas district that he left in poor shape. Since his hiring, he has hired his former Texas colleagues to replace the fleeing administrators who remained from the Superintendent Pedicone’s administration.
Under Sanchez’s leadership the administration has grown, and he arranged to borrow money to support his pre-school scheme. That scheme was presented as a recruiting tool. While the District has not worked to attract highly qualified teachers, Ms. Grijalva’s mother-in-law was hired as a principal. That hiring caused a fire storm when it was learned that the women’s relationship was kept hidden from other Board members.
This is exactly why TUSD needs an internal auditor, says education activists. Stegeman has been proposing an auditor who would report directly to the Governing Board and not to the superintendent. A request for that position and has been blocked by Grijalva and Sanchez.