At its last Board meeting, Tucson Unified School District Governing Board members learned that the District’s decline in enrollment continued unabated during Dr. H.T. Sanchez’s tenure. As a result, the District is now facing a loss of nearly $5 million dollars.
District leaders will have to soon make difficult choices. While Board member Kristel Foster told the ADI that she “will work with Dr. Trujillo, as he stated last night, to listen to and consider staff recommendations as they work with our bargaining groups to bring budget proposals before the Board,” community members are saying that the cuts should never be a concern for collective bargaining units.
The community is demanding that any cuts be made from the administrative fat; and there is a lot of that. Fortunately, a few administrators are on their way out. As Board member Mark Stegeman said when asked about the sensationalized “news” that Deputy Superintendent Karen Kopec would be leaving at the end of the year, “We need to reduce administrative positions.”
Stegeman said he would not personally want to fill that position, according to the Arizona Daily Star report. The Star also reported that “Kopec joins Anna Maiden, chief human resources officer, and Chief Financial Officer Karla Soto,” who are also on their way out. The departures offer an amazing opportunity to reduce administrative cost hire employees whose skills match their salaries. Maiden and Soto’s positions were important and hiring competent replacements could actually save the District money.
Due to the fact that the District does not have enough teachers to meet the need that currently exists, the Board has no choice but to cut the fluff.
There is a lot of fluff ‘n stuff
During Sanchez tenure, the District entered into a massive $750,000 contract with KVOA for advertising and other related PR services. Those services served Sanchez, but not the District.
Those dollars were supposed to be used to increase interest in the District and enrollment with specific attention given to magnet schools. Maybe the massive expense slowed the decline in enrollment, but it could be argued that the money would have been better spent on making classrooms more attractive to parents, students, and teachers, who would then be the salespersons for the District. Whatever “special” effort was made for the magnet schools did not seem to help those which recently lost their magnet status.
The evidence is clear; parents prefer neighborhood schools and heed the suggestions of other parents. If a school is close-by, clean, safe, and houses the happy kids of satisfied parents, enrollment will most likely hold steady. TUSD’s administration failed to recognize those really basic human behaviors. Of course, special theme schools, such as magnets should be a tremendous attraction for students with specific interests in any of the offered themes (fine arts, math/science/technology, etc.), however, such schools must be supported to the level of actually providing quality programs, which has not been the case for every magnet school.
Under Sanchez, it seems money was no object and appearances were everything. In fact, in May the District entered into a $64,500 contract with SchoolDesk for a new website. Despite the fact that the District has its own webmasters, it contracted with SchoolDesk to build a fairly basic website. While the new site, according to Communications director Stephanie Boe, is a mirror of the old site, it is cracked due to an incomplete migration process. Links to vital documents and other public records are as broken as the public’s trust.
A losing proposition
During his tenure, and the 2016 General Election, Sanchez and Tucson Unified School District Governing Board (TUSD) members Kristel Foster and Adelita Grijlava continued to make baseless and incredible claims that the District’s enrollment had increased.
The claim was baseless due to the fact that there was no available data upon which to base the claim. It is that simple.
In order to make it appear that the enrollment increased, the District included the unfunded pre-K child enrollment numbers. Not only are these children not TUSD students, the funding of this daycare project is drained from TUSD classrooms.
The rational for including the daycare kids was that maybe, someday, they might enroll in TUSD schools. Seriously, that was the sole basis for including them.
When asked why she continued to repeat the baseless claim, Foster referred the ADI to a picture of a press conference in which a super-good looking poster shows that the pre-K students were included in the count. She offered that picture as evidence that the District was honest about how they got their numbers.
Unfortunately, the District staff may have been honest about the numbers, but Foster was not at all. In an opinion piece in the Star published only days before the election, Foster wrote: “Most impressively, we have done an about face when it comes to our notorious enrollment loss. In fact, 228 more K-12 students have entered TUSD since the 40th day of the 2015-2016 school year compared to the 52nd school day this year.” The fact that Foster specifically states “K-12”, in this quote when she was by her own admission aware that pre-K enrollment was added in as part of the figure, shows intentional misinformation was provided by her in order for her to regain her seat. Any politician who consciously decides to provide voters with misinformation and is found out, as Foster has been, should not be believed again.
During their campaign to spare Sanchez from termination, Foster and Grijalva continued to mislead the public. Foster posted on Facebook that “together” the District’s leaders had “increased student enrollment.” Grijlava shared the post as gospel.
Binders full of evidence
When confronted with the evidence compiled against him, Sanchez had no choice but to resign. The crack PR crew he had developed during his tenure made it nearly difficult to send him packing with nothing. He walked away with $200K, but in the end it was the District’s stakeholders that gained.
Those stakeholders gained the truth. They now know exactly the state of the District and can begin to plan for next year, and the year after that, and the years after that.
In the end, Sanchez had no choice, and he left the public with no choice. They must demand a transparent and lean administration dedicated to getting dollars in the classrooms. They really have no choice.