Hicks Calls For Cooperation From Fellow TUSD Board Members

Tucson Unified School District Governing Board president Michael Hicks reads to students during Love of Reading Week

Tucson Unified School District Governing Board president Michael Hicks is calling for cooperation from his fellow Board members and support from the community as the District begins the process of reformation. Hicks is calling on all Board members to put aside hurt feelings, grudges, and personal ambitions and focus on the needs of the District’s tens of thousands of students.

“TUSD is now undergoing a significant transition due to the recent resignation of its Superintendent. In itself, this required a process which was spread over a three week period due to the legal confidentiality requirements and need to ensure clear communication within the process. For the last two weeks, the Board has been involved in a process of selecting an interim superintendent. (Currently the District’s Deputy Superintendent, Dr. Karen Kopec, serves in this role.) These matters have brought about some level of resistance and misinformation- with what I believe to be the intent to slow down or sabotage each process. Such undermining will ultimately fail and acts only as a distraction. It is not productive to the operation of the District, its employees and students who they serve,” said Hicks in a statement on Friday.

Earlier this month, Superintendent H.T. Sanchez was forced to resign or face termination by the Board. After false allegations were published on an obscure online news site that the Board had breached Open Meeting laws this week, it became apparent that not all Board members were interested in a collaborative process, according to District insiders. That site, the Tucson Sentinel, has served as the public relations arm for a local group of political power players.

Some of those political power players are members of the “G-Crew.” That nickname refers to the group’s leader, Congressman Raul Grijalva. The Congressman’s daughter, Adelita, was replaced as president of the TUSD Board by Hicks in January. In the 2016 General Election, former G-Crewmember, Cam Juarez, lost his seat on the Board and was replaced by political newcomer Rachael Sedgwick.

Grijalva’s camp had controlled the Board since the time the Congressman served as a TUSD Board member from 1974 to 1986. Adelita was first elected to the Board in 2002.

Under their leadership, the District has experienced a massive loss of students, and now also suffers, along with other districts in the state, from a teacher shortage. Unlike other districts, little has been done in TUSD to increase the number of highly qualified teachers in classrooms. Instead, the number of administrators has swelled.

Creating chaos and confusion

The Grijalva’s are not easily giving up control however, and have taken drastic steps to hamstring the efforts of Hicks, Sedgwick and fellow Board member, Mark Stegeman, to redirect funds into the classrooms and away from administration.

Grijalva, Stegeman, and fellow Board member, Kristel Foster, are quoted in the nonsensical Sentinel piece, which seems to imply that the appearance of an interim deputy superintendent position and an interim superintendent position on the agenda for the now-cancelled March 17 meeting was illegal.

Arizona statute allows boards to consider personnel and legal issues in executive sessions. Nothing in statute would have prevented the TUSD Board from adding a discussion of a deputy superintendent position to the agenda.

The Sentinel rightly noted that the Board “is legally restricted from discussing or taking action on items that do not appear on public agendas.” However; because the item was on the agenda, it is unclear what the violation, to which the Sentinel alludes, might be. Given the Sentinel’s history of creating scandals out of whole cloth, it would not be surprising that the allusion to a violation was simply and wholly specious.

There is little doubt that the Sentinel’s story was at the behest of, or at least spurred by members of the G-Crew. Click bait like that provided by anything related to TUSD would be hard for even a nonpartisan independent news site, like the ADI, to ignore. Still, the bizarre theory that publically posting a notice of a board action is somehow illegal is really over the top.

Sanchez cohorts fail the system

The Board had little reason to believe that the generously paid Deputy Superintendent Karen Kopec would refuse to assume the leadership role upon Sanchez’s departure. After all, she surely would have been expected to assume those responsibilities had Sanchez left for other reasons such as illness. Because she has essentially refused the role, the Board was left to search for an interim superintendent until they could permanently fill the vacancy created by Sanchez’s departure.

Did you know?

Kopec’s contract provides for a base salary of $151,000; $17,000 more than her predecessor, Adrian Vega, received. Kopec’s contract grants an $8,000 stipend, a $10,000 performance bonus, and $500 to $600/day for every day of vacation she does not take. The contract includes 25 vacation days, 5 sick days, and 5 personal days and ALL the school holidays.

Kopec was brought into the District by Sanchez and enjoyed a lucrative salary and bonuses despite her limited leadership experience. Kopec had been one of Sanchez’s references when he first applied for the TUSD job in 2013.

Because of Kopec’s very emotional breakdown in front of other administrators after Sanchez was forced out, there has been great community pressure on the Board to force her resignation as well and bring in support for the interim superintendent. In fact, Maggie Shafer, who first said she would accept the interim position and then reportedly dropped out after the Sentinel’s hit piece, insisted that Terri Melendez be hired as the deputy superintendent to provide support to her, according to sources close to Shafer.

Restoring calm, taking charge

“Change and the transitions it brings about are both difficult and I am optimistic that both our internal and external TUSD community understands that as we move forward it is in the best interest of serving its 47,000- plus- students,” said Hicks. “Critical processes such as the development of the 2017-18 budget are now underway and the Board’s attention must not only focus on an immediate search for an interim superintendent, but on the search for TUSD’s permanent superintendent. The fact that a person has declined to be considered for the interim superintendent position is a bump, but it is one that those of us, who are committed to moving forward, can easily overcome.”

“As the TUSD Board President, I want to reassure the community that I will do all within my power to focus on moving the District forward by ensuring that processes, such as those mentioned here, continue forward to full success,” continued Hicks. “I will not allow a few bumps and ill-intended distractions to detour me or others from moving forward.”

No one believes at this point, that the Board will vote unanimously for any candidate, but Hicks believes that the District continues to hold great promise and urges his fellow Board members to act in a manner that was clearly expressed by the voters: they want stability but recognize the need to change the way the District does business.

“The public is clamoring for transparency, and accountability. It was clear that in the past, administrations failed to increase transparency and still refuse to take responsibility for poor decision making that led to issues like a surplus of Prop 301 monies. Going forward, the public has my promise that we will explain as much as is legally possible about what we are doing, when we are doing it, and why we are doing it. Nothing in law prevents us from engaging in a transparent process. Because we are dealing with personnel issues there is some need for Executive Sessions. But we have seen that there are some who will take advantage of Executive Sessions and misrepresent by implication what is happening. For too long this District’s business has been conducted behind closed doors. That is going to stop now.”

21 Comments on "Hicks Calls For Cooperation From Fellow TUSD Board Members"

  1. At this particular point in time, Jesus Christ could be named the acting superintendent and the vote would be 3-2. As long as there is a Grijalva on the board or in local politics, they will always vote for chaos and dishonesty. Its simply the way of the mafia and everyone should understand that. The majority/minority don’t know or don’t care how bad they are being played by the mafia and always will be used to stir up the pot. That’s the progressive way.

    • JD from an undisclosed source. A guy named Jesus did apply the Mean Girls said NO, because he is undocumented.

  2. The Board had little reason to believe that the generously paid Deputy Superintendent Karen Kopec would refuse to assume the leadership role upon Sanchez’s departure. After all, she surely would have been expected to assume those responsibilities had Sanchez left for other reasons such as illness. Because she has essentially refused the role, the Board was left to search for an interim superintendent until they could permanently fill the vacancy created by Sanchez’s departure.

    Since she has declined to do what she is being paid for she should be terminated. NOW NOT AT HER CONVENIENCE!!!!

  3. The temp leader does not need to be paid an extravagent amount either. The piece the other day talking about $300000 plus the ‘assistant’ is well out of line IMO. They will only be there for 3-4 months so why the big paycheck? Meanwhile tusd workers still get 1% raises at best and teachers still only $4-500 a year increases. No now is the time to get the superintendent costs also under control. $600 for ‘unused’ vacation while workers get 60% for theirs if they leave!!

    • Lillian Fox | March 18, 2017 at 8:09 pm |

      The big pay check is a smaller monthly package than what Sanchez was getting and smaller than what deputy superintendent Kopec is getting.

      They weren’t being paid to keep the chairs warm; they were going to be paid to clean up the mess Sanchez left behind and get TUSD into decent shape for the next leadership team.
      They should have gotten an extra combat pay stipend to deal with some members of the Board and a few members of Sanchez’s leadership team.

      They were wise to pull out after the Foster/Grijalva team demonstrated the attacks would continue. There was no commitment to working with Maggie Shafer and her deputy to get TUSD on track.

      The tragedy for TUSD is that Ms. Shafer was the ideal candidate for interim superintendent and probably a very good candidate for superintendent, permanently.

  4. Working Man Blues | March 18, 2017 at 7:59 am |

    Any and everyone connected to the HT Adelita Kristel machine should be terminated with or without cause. Start at 1010 central and work your way down the org chart. These clowns don’t care about the kids or the teachers. Only how much they can line their pockets at the tax payers expense. The Mean Girls will literally burn the place down and poison the wells on their way out not to lose their political control.

  5. The Evil One | March 18, 2017 at 8:18 am |

    Well, Hicks started this mess by not firing Sanchez. That sent a message to the rest of the cronies. Stay put and wait for the buy-out.

  6. Terminate Kopec, she swerved from the path of duty. Duty to serve our children immediately when needed.

  7. The Oracle of Tucson | March 18, 2017 at 9:48 am |

    The Vail school district was able to attract and hire a new Supt without too much fanfare and without questionable salaries and perks, perhaps if TUSD was a successful growing district instead of a declining springboard for the Graftjulva crime family to pad friends with jobs and pensions we to could perhaps try something new like focus on the kids. Instead, we are treated to an endless parade of stupid by hand picked overpaid Graftjulva loyalist that no matter what will ride the Titanic to sea floor all for a buck.
    Cam was the first to go and Ms. Graftjulva will be the next shown the door by voters tired of being served vomit for dinner every Tuesday evening at 1010.

    TOoT

  8. The board needs to look into recovering the dollars that Sanchez spent giving $10,000 and $20,000 raises to his cronies without board approval. If these raises were given without board approval, then these may be gifts of public funds so the TUSD board would be perfectly within its rights to rescind these raises, taking all recipients back to their original salaries. They could also direct payroll to deduct these amounts received thus far this school year from the recipient’s paychecks until the gift of public funds has been repaid to TUSD.

    If Sanchez used his discretionary funds to award these raises, then upon his departure, those discretionary funds no longer had a custodian other than the TUSD school board, so the Board needs to roll back those salaries to their pre-Sanchez level. While they may not be able to recover funds already paid out in this scenario, there is still more than one quarter of the school year left so somewhere between 25% and 50% of the funds can be recovered.

    TUSD has gone after lower paid employees in the past for much lower sums of money. About ten years ago, Payroll/Benefits miscalculated the insurance deductions for employees and dependents. This mistake was not discovered for a number of years.

    About 5 years later, employees and retirees received notice from TUSD that employees needed to reimburse TUSD for missing insurance premiums from years earlier. Employees were told that while this was TUSD’s mistake, TUSD needed to collect these premiums from current and past employees because not collecting those premium dollars would have been a gift of public funds to employees. For single employees the dollar amounts were small, maybe $100 but for some people with dependent coverage, or beginning teachers, or part time employees, this was a big hit especially to the lowest paid employees.

    If five years after the fact, TUSD can recover monies accidentally given to employees due to a miscalculation of insurance premiums causing an accidental gift of public funds, then the TUSD board should be able recover the much larger Bonuses awarded by Sanchez to his supporters in TUSD. If complete recovery is not possible, then the TUSD board should certainly roll back all non classrooms salaries increased by Sanchez to the level they were before Sanchez increased them to reward his supporters.

    • Lillian Fox | March 18, 2017 at 8:16 pm |

      Yes!

      The Board also needs to block the 2016-17 $10,000 performance bonuses for all the cabinet members, if there are no written objectives. Last year Sanchez awarded the bonuses to all his cabinet members, even though none of them had specific written objectives to meet.

      Now, with 3 1/2 months left, it’s too late in the year to write performance objectives for them. And who would write them?

  9. All Grijalvistas and those appointed/hired by H.T. need to be fired, PERIOD! If not, they will continue to foment tension and disruption without any thought being given to the students whom they are suppose to serve. If the TUSD School Board needs help making up the list of those who need to find employment in, say, Churchill, Canada, ask any good teacher or administrator who was unjustly fired during H.T.’s reign of terror.

  10. Hard working taxpayer and voter | March 18, 2017 at 11:01 am |

    One point that seemingly has been lost in all this TUSD mismanagement. In the recent past the Az Daily Star, the Tucson Weekly and even Dylan Smith and the Sentinnel have all been quoted as having referred to themselves as the free press. No, they’re not the free press! They are the tucson press. Born bred and run by the same dumba$$es who left our community in a structural financial mess. Highest taxes. Worst poverty. Horrible government services. Mismanaged county, city and TUSD. Yep. And now they are pleading for more subscriptions, on line advertising and donor dollars. If they truly reported the hard news and not just the jibberish of the Politcal Elites (Chucky, little johnnie, and the G Crew) they wouldn’t have to run around with hat in hand. I won’t waste one thin dime of my hard earned paycheck on their Fake News. And apparently neither will many other hard working families. Looks like consolidation is in their future? That or the scrap yard.

  11. Next we will be getting a letter from Grijalva puppets Varney and Mayor Rothschild demanding H. T. Sanchez be rehired to return TUSD to the calm of a corrupt organization. It is time to put an end to the Grijalva corruption once and for all. The GOP, Green and Libertarian Parties must recruit a single candidate to retire Raul Grijalva in 2018

  12. Brian Sauber | March 18, 2017 at 3:00 pm |

    I have always supported Hicks and Stegeman, but bring Shafer and Melendez back would have been a horrible move that would have sent TUSD backwards. These two were horrible when they worked for TUSD in the past, involved in many scandals, and we’re not liked by employees. I know that myself and many others have given a name of a superintendent candidate that more than qualified without the baggage or dirty laundry.I would like to see a list of candidates, this does not violate anything as they are not employees yet. True transparency, let the public know who the candidates are. Give us a say in the process.

  13. TUSD taxpayer and voter | March 18, 2017 at 4:19 pm |

    Mr Hicks needs to work better with both Mr Stegeman and Ms Sedgwick if he wants to earn his respect while at the chair. He can stop holding out for Kristel and Adelita to cooperate. Their only mission is to destroy everyone who gets in their political way. TUSD is in serious decline and needs positive reinforcement from the board asap. Too many kids and teachers are depending on it.

  14. Hicks will never get two of the board to ever coop. They are “resist”ing. It’s the “progressive” thing to do.

  15. As long as Raul Grijalva remains in power, there will be chaos. His attempts to control the board, whether through his daughter or whatever, will be non stop. And Grijalva will remain in ofc. until the illegals can be cleaned out of Tucson and the rest of Pima Co. and the border made more secure, disallowing for more to come into our country/state/county.

    • We need the AG to open an investigation of his tampering with TUSD if there is evidence.

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