After the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the Tucson Unified School District had failed to live up to its obligations to all students and the provisions of the order files in the District desegregation case, Judge David Bury appointed Dr. Willis Hawley as Special Master.
The Ninth Circuit reversed Bury’s ruling in which he granted the District “unitary” status in the decades old TUSD desegregation case. The court reversed Bury’s decision to effectively end the Court’s oversight of the District. The Ninth Circuit justice rightly found that the District had acted in bad faith by failing to be transparent and accountable to the community.
In 2007, Bury was anxious to return local control of the District to Tucsonans. The Ninth Circuit found that Bury admitted that he was “hard pressed without spending hours upon hours of rutting through the record to piece together the facts it needed to support a finding of full compliance,” however, he announced his intention, “to close this case and return the district schools to the state because oversight and control will be more effective placed in the hands of the public with the political system at its disposal to address any future issues.”
How did we get a Special Master?
Judge Sidney Thomas, writing for the unanimous three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit wrote, “Decades of Supreme Court precedent dictate that, where good faith lacks and the effects of de jure segregation linger, public monitoring and political accountability do not suffice. We reverse the court below and order it to maintain jurisdiction until it is satisfied that the school district has met its burden by demonstrating – not merely promising – its ‘good-faith compliance…”
The District failed to perform the most basic compliance requirements. Among the failures was the unwillingness to hire auditors to track the tens of millions of dollars that are provided each year based solely on the District desegregation status. Over the years, the District took over $1 billion to level the playing field for students who had not traditionally been served. Because of the District’s cavalier attitude, the playing field has not been leveled and the inequities have simply rooted deeper instead of having been uprooted.
In order to ensure that his Order was followed, Judge Bury appointed a Special Master in the case.
Who is Special Master Willis Hawley?
According to his biography provided by University of Maryland, where Hawley is a professor emeritus of Education and Public Affairs:
Dr. Hawley joined the faculty at the University of Maryland in 1993 and his research and teaching interests include education policy, professional development, school improvement, and intergroup relations. Prior to joining the University of Maryland, he served as a Scholar in Residence at the American Association of School Administrators and Executive Director of the National Partnership for Excellence and Accountability in Teaching. Dr. Hawley has also served as Dean of the College of Education at the University of Maryland, Professor of Education and Political Science at Vanderbilt University, and Dean of Peabody College at Vanderbilt.
Dr. Hawley holds his Ph.D. from the University of California Berkeley and has published a number of books, articles, and reports. He is currently working on book with Corwin Press entitled First Things First: Quality Teaching in Your School.
No one would dispute that Hawley now holds what has to be his least undesirable jobs. Unless Hawley slaved away as a dishwasher or garbage collector in a past life, his role as Special Master must be the most difficult role he has ever held.
Because the District, under the leadership of former Superintendent H.T. Sanchez at the direction of an Adelita Grijalva-controlled Governing Board, has been uncooperative and litigious, Hawley’s job work has been more demanding and his billings reflect the time which has been required. In the past 18 months alone, he has billed the District over $300,000 for services rendered.
Should the District ever decide to cooperate with the Special Master and the plaintiffs, Hawley might just hold one of the most rewarding jobs one could imagine in terms of the social good. Based on the impressions of those who have worked with Hawley, he would much prefer the latter reward.
We reached out to Mendoza plaintiff representative Sylvia Campoy for a closer look at Hawley. Campoy, a brilliant, soft-spoken, and tireless champion for children replied:
I am often asked about the fees that are paid from the Tucson Unified School District’s (TUSD) desegregation fund for payments to the Special Master (SM) as well as the Plaintiffs’ legal counsel. This funding is also used to pay TUSD’s legal counsel for work pertaining to the desegregation court case.
In order to better understand what the SM and the Plaintiffs (their legal counsel) are involved in relative to the desegregation court order as it pertains to “billable hours” and invoiced fees, it is important to understand the dynamics between the parties because such dynamics can either create a collaborative environment or one which is more arduous. A more laborious interaction between the respondant and the Plaintiffs will obviously be more time-consuming and, therefore, more costly. It also delays resolution on matters which adversely impact students, a fact which must not be lost! I address this from a historical perspective- having served as a representative for the Mendoza Plaintiffs for 13 years; it is a voluntary role. My historical perspective also includes my involvement with the desegregation court order since its inception in 1978- as a former teacher who was summoned by the administration to assist in developing various compliance or corrective action plans, as well as that of a former parent, TUSD civil rights administrator and ever active community member. While the nature of litigation is one of legal opposition, the manner in which the litigation is dealt with by the parties can either alleviate or escalate the adversarial relationship.
The District has become notorious for claiming that it is working “collaboratively” with the Special Master and Plaintiffs. Yet, a review of the court filings and court orders over the last four years paints a very different picture. Two recent examples of laborious and, therefore more costly processes follow.
So called “collaborative efforts” were practically invisible last school year when the District immersed itself into a campaign that was created to blame the court order/Unitary Status Plan, along with the Special Master and Plaintiffs, for the requirements and timeline set forward for magnet schools dealing primarily with academic achievement and integration. School communities were not told that the District itself had created and committed to implement the magnet school improvement plans.
Parents from several magnet schools, inclusive of Ochoa and Safford were asked by school employees to sign petitions and letters addressed to the Court and Plaintiffs’ legal counsel both of which were based on and included false information. At one school this occurred during parent/teacher conferences. Great confusion was created through this campaign. Fortunately, the Court accurately assessed that the petition and letters received by the Court showed great misunderstanding and confusion and it ordered some actions to better inform those at the Board level by directing the SM to transmit court orders directly to the President of the Board so as have improved clarity about each court order. Part of this campaign involved notable public insults by the Superintendent- targeted at the Special Master, the Plaintiffs, their legal counsel and their representatives. None of what is described here can possibly be translated as “collaborative.”
Despite the disheartening environment, a stipulation was proposed by the Mendoza Plaintiffs which allowed for an additional year for the magnet schools to meet the magnet improvement plans as submitted to the Court in addition to ensuring that the schools were adequately staffed and supported. The District embraced the concept and it was accepted by the SM which resulted in a stipulated agreement. Nonetheless, as recently was made public, six of the magnet school will lose their magnet status by the end of this school year. Individuals who work at some of the impacted schools, along with parents have stated that they simply were not provided with the highly qualified teaching staff and resources needed to succeed.
Most who are familiar with TUSD budget documents can tell you that the budget documents are not self-explanatory. For this reason, since the review process was put in place, clarification has consistently been required and requested from TUSD by the SM and Plaintiffs on each of TUSD’s proposed drafted desegregation budgets. Both the Plaintiffs and Special Master have provided comments and inquiries. It is not always the case that responses are provided by the District. TUSD has consistently begrudged the comments and inquiries posed by the SM and Plaintiffs and has complained about the time consumed in responding. Yet, it would seem that the desegregation budget adequately funds several high level positions that should support making timely responses to the needed disclosure of information. This complaint has been expressed by the administration and TUSD legal counsel to the Governing Board during public meetings and to the Court in TUSD filings. TUSD again raised its complaint to the Court pertaining to requests made by the Special Master and Plaintiffs relative to the desegregation budget and said that the requests were too onerous. The Court responded in its December 27, 2016 court order:
“First, the Plaintiffs and the Special Master complain that TUSD failed to comply with review and comment procedures especially procedures designed for the 2016-2017 budget process. TUSD disagrees and complains that review requests made by the Plaintiffs and the Special Master are too burdensome. In the case of the budget process, the District reports it “is already working with the Special Master to finalize the process for the budget for the 17-18 school year.” It has submitted, and he has commented on, a proposed timeline and process for the development of the SY 2017-2018 Unitary Status Plan (USP) Budget, and the parties are scheduling meetings to work collaboratively to finalize a draft budget process proposal for the upcoming year. This is a repeat performance of what happened last year in respect to the parties’ inability to work cooperatively in preparing the 2015-16 USP budget and what happened in SY 2014-2015. In the hope of breaking this dysfunctional cycle, the Court orders the parties to file the 2017-2018 budget process procedures with the Court. The procedures shall include the review demands of the Plaintiffs and the Special Master for both subject matter and format for TUSD’s presentation of budgetary information to them. The requested budget disclosures should not be burdensome. The procedures shall include specific review benchmarks and a timeline for development, review and comment prior to submittal of the budget to the Governing Board for adoption and a date for TUSD to file the adopted budget with the Court. TUSD shall file with the Court a Notice of Disclosure and/or Compliance within 5 days of each benchmark deadline, or explain any failures to comply.”
This exemplifies how the Court has been forced to intervene as it pertains to how the parties are to collaborate, which should have been totally unnecessary. It also exemplifies how resistant the District has been in simply responding to the Special Master’s and Plaintiffs’ comments/inquiries. The requests are made to gain clarification and information about proposed expenditures within the desegregation budget, which is critical as it relates to the implementation of the USP as well as ensuring that desegregation dollars are not being used to supplant costs that should be absorbed by non-desegregation dollars. Supplanting has been found to be an ongoing issue many times each budget year. TUSD should not expect a rubber-stamp-approval on a proposed desegregation budget without providing clarification and responses to inquiries. To expect otherwise is not reasonable.
These are only two examples which demonstrate how the relationship between the parties has eroded over the last four years. None of this can be called “collaboration,” yet this is the word often uttered by TUSD in how it works with the Special Master and Plaintiffs. The obvious lack of cooperation results in increased litigation, expenditure of time, and billable hours that could have been well prevented. What is also very important to keep in mind is that TUSD’s own legal fees have increased. I believe that TUSD now has three internal attorneys who work on the case as needed, in addition to contracted legal counsel from a Phoenix-based firm which includes at least two attorneys. Within a four year period TUSD has had three individuals in the position of Chief Legal Counsel and has changed law firms which are assigned to work on the desegregation case three times. Each transition has been costly. Yet, TUSD considers it appropriate to throw stones at the SM and the Plaintiffs about their fees. Plain and simple, the lack of collaboration and even the lack of consistency in TUSD’s legal representation has driven up the costs for all of the parties, however, the obvious “driver” has been TUSD.
Campoy says the Mendoza Plaintiffs “remain hopeful that an improved and collaborative working relationship with TUSD is possible and certainly one that would better serve the students and community.” The truth of the matter is that if the public servants are not willing to do their part nothing will change. The plaintiffs have shown nothing but good faith over the years, when will the District start?