Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sunday Morning Primer: WTF Happened at the Tuesday TUSD Board Meeting?

Posted By on Sun, Dec 16, 2012 at 8:59 AM

It could be the only Tucson Unified School District vote and revote in recent school governance history to cause happiness and confusion en-masse simultaneously, followed by an anger that's fueled discussions on why federal intervention is needed, as well as talk of a citizen lawsuit.

Here's your Super Sunday morning primer, folks. Grab a cup of coffee. It starts right after the jump.

On Tuesday, Dec. 11, during a regular TUSD governing board meeting, a resolution written by TUSD staff was brought forward by board member Mark Stegeman. On the agenda was: “Fisher-Mendoza v. Tucson Unified School District — Approval of or Objection to the Proposed Unitary Status Plan/Consent Decree.”

The proposed unitary status plan/consent decree is the final draft desegregation plan released Monday, Dec. 10 by U.S. District Court-appointed special master Willis Hawley — this is what goes before U.S. District Court Judge David Bury, along with any objections and briefs filed by state Attorney General Tom Horne, Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund attorneys on behalf of the Mendoza plaintiffs, attorney Ruben Salter on behalf of the Fisher plaintiffs, TUSD represented by DeConcini McDonald Yetwin & Lacy law firm, and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Hawley made changes to the plan that reflected concerns presented by different members of the community who attended and spoke to Hawley and the other legal parties regarding the almost 40-year discrimination case at three-days of public forums or through the deseg website — tucsonusp.com.

The confusion from the meeting didn't come after a request made by board member Adelita Grijalva, but after a lengthy period of time after the board voted on two resolutions. Stegeman brought back the second resolution before the board for a revote. By then, many who attended the board meeting were gone and still floating on air from the previous votes that took place — a vote they felt a majority of the board, with Grijalva's leadership, gave TUSD's legal council a directive to remove the district's objection in deseg plan to core classes. Yes, that meant an objection to bringing back Mexican-American studies.

Stegeman read the resolution, and included the TUSD objection against the “cultural relevant curriculum” being used in TUSD as core curriculum in history and literature classes. Stegeman included other objections, including his own personal objections to other areas of the plan. One observer told the Range, Stegeman had obviously gone rogue, deviating from the statement prepared by staff.

You can watch what took place on Tuesday here.

Heather Gaines from the DeConcini firm, took to the podium to discuss the the resolution and what exactly the board was doing that night.

Gaines said, “You have the most current draft unitary status plan noting areas of objection that was filed by the parties on December 10, yesterday. If you have any questions, I’m happy to field those. Otherwise, it notes those areas of objection and if you wish to identify any further areas of objection or discuss those that have been raised, you can do so.”

OK, pay close attention here. It was at this point that Grijalva said she knew that the majority of the board filed an objection to the culturally relevant courses.

“So I don’t know if there is any way to note that there is a minority voice on the board that does not have any objection to those courses being core because that is some direction. So is there any way to note that? How would you do that?,” Grijalva asked.

Gaines said, “I suppose a note could be made. Typically, as you know, the district, when I file things it’s on behalf of the district and the district acts through the governing board, which is the group of you. However, to the extent this is in open session and so noted, I believe a note could be included of that minority position.”

As we reported on the Range on Wednesday, Stegeman said he'd make a motion and read the resolution provided to him by staff. It's important to note here that we went to the TUSD website to see if the resolution(s) had been posted on the website with agenda items. It was not there. We called the TUSD governing board office to find out if a copy was available. We were put on hold as a staff member went to see if it was on the website. It wasn't and we were told to talk with media director Cara Rene. We did, and Rene told us by email that a copy of the resolution was not available but suggested we listen to it on the TUSD website's video feed. OK, so we did. Here you go.

Stegeman read, “I move that the governing board approve the joint proposed unitary status plan noting areas of party disagreement, as submitted to the court on December 10, 2012, subject to the district’s objections noted therein, the objections set forth in the legal memorandum of objections filed on November 9, and the following three particular objections: the district raises a general objection to the hiring of professional development deadlines, the district objects to the creation of the task force that has been added to the plan since November 9, in section V.D.7, paragraphs g, h and i, and the district objects to the mandate for culturally relevant courses in section V.D.6.a., paragraph ii.”

Board member Michael Hicks seconded and board president Miguel Cuevas asked if there was further discussion before a vote took place. Grijalva said, “There are significant sections to the Unitary Plan that I support. And so if there is a way to separate out the culturally relevant courses from the rest of the document, then I would be able to support a vast majority of the unitary plan. But if not, then I would have to vote no to the Unitary Plan. I don’t know how to do that.”

Cuevas suggested that Stegeman consider Grijalva's request, maybe to do two separate motions. One of its entirety and the second one separated out.”

Stegeman said “Sure. So I would be happy to divide that motion. Basically what I’ll do is remove the last. … I’m sorry, did I ...” Cuevas interrupted, “So you’ll withdraw your motion and then….”

“Well, I’ll make a friendly and if a seconder agrees then I think we can proceed in that way. So I will amend my motion on the floor by striking the last objection of the three to the mandate for culturally relevant courses. I guess then, at the top I should say the following two particular objections and then we can make that objection as a separate motion. Would the seconder accept that striking? And then I’ll reintroduce the other,” Stegeman said.

TUSD legal Martha Durkin said that would work and Grijalva said she was fine with that.

The board voted unanimously to approve the deseg plan. Then Stegeman said, “So now I will reintroduce the objection that was struck from the previous motion and I’ll read this into the record. 'The district objects to the mandate for culturally relevant courses in section V.D.6.a., paragraph ii of the proposed Unitary Status Plan.'”

Cuevas asked for a second, Hicks second, and there was no discussion. The resolution was defeated 3-2, with Grijalva, Cuevas and Alexandre Sugiyama voting no, and Hicks and Stegeman voting yes.

When we talked to Mendoza representative Sylvia Campoy on Tuesday night, she said she was floating as she got up to leave the board room. Campoy, who is a former TUSD board member, said she understood that what took place to mean that the second vote gave TUSD legal a directive to remove the objection to culturally relevant courses as core curriculum making a path available for MAS to return next fall. She wasn't alone. Facebook lit up that night in excitement from MAS supporters.

OK, so prepare yourself to enter the TUSD vortex. After addressing other items on the agenda, Stegeman asks the board to take a five minute break and when he returns he said this, “We had a split vote earlier on my motion to object to one paragraph in the Unitary Plan. And I don’t want the board on record with split votes on this issue. So I would request that a member of the majority ask to reconsider and then I would hope that we can vote that down unanimously to avoid a split vote.”

“It’s better on this issue not to have a split vote, so I ask that my motion which failed 2-3 be reconsidered, that we vote to reconsider it and that we then vote it down 5-0 so that we’re not on record with a division. That’s my request, but I can’t make that motion because I was in the minority. So someone in the majority has to move to reconsider.”

Grijalva asked why, and then Cuevas said he would move to reconsider staff for a clarification on what exactly it is they are reconsidering? “The motion was that they board would object to that portion of the current plan.”

Stegeman said, “The board’s vote on the Unitary Plan is an extremely important vote. I do not, I did not anticipate my motion being defeated. I do not want a split vote on this. I would rather revote and vote it down and have a unanimous—I would prefer that the board unanimously vote down my motion so that we have a single action, a single vote and a united position on the Unitary Status Plan. I think that is very strongly to the district’s advantage.”

Wanting further clarification, Grijalva said, “So are we voting then for the minority to join the majority and remove the objection the district previously put in about core classes, the culturally relevant classes.”

Stegeman answered: “We are moving…. We voted on two motions. We had a united position on the first motion, and we had a split position on the second motion. We are bringing back the second motion, which was objecting, listing a separate objection to the culturally relevant curriculum, and I propose that motion—I now propose to vote against my own motion and if we all voted against it then we would have a united position. And that’s what—I think we’re stronger, we’re better off by not having a split vote on this issue.”

Grijalva returned, “So then, when we vote—This is my issue. I want to make sure that everyone is aware that what moved before was direction to our legal counsel to remove the district’s objection to having culturally relevant classes as core classes. So now—right?”

Stegeman said the motion — the second vote — was already defeated. “I am simply trying to get a unanimous vote on something that was already defeated.”

Cuevas asked Durkin for clarification. “I do think that it’s important to say where we are. The motion that passed with the two added objections would remain the same. So the second motion is simply the objection to that particular section of the plan,” she said.

“It’s not changing the district position because the motion has already been defeated. I would rather be on record with a unanimous vote here. So we already defeated it, I would rather defeat it 5-0 and have a united position on this. That’s my request. I don’t want to go into this with a split vote,” Stegeman said.

Grijalva added, “I just want to make sure that we’re all clear, when we’re voting, that we’re voting—I mean I want you to frame it so that it’s really clear because I don’t want this to come back to us later.”

Durkin said, “What we’re doing right now is only reconsidering the previous motion. So I think it’s important to note that the board has already done the objections noted in the first motion.”

Grijalva said, “A no vote would mean what?” Durkin answered, “A yes would have been in support of the motion and that would mean that you would object to that section of the plan.”

“So a no vote would mean that we are removing the objection, the district’s previous objection,” Grijalva said. Cuevas than interjected, “An additional objection that was submitted. That does not have anything to do with our original objections that were submitted in executive session.”

A lengthy executive session was held before the regular meeting. In fact, newly elected school board members Kristel Foster and Cam Juarez took an oath of office and were allowed to attend the executive session. We asked TUSD media director Cara Rene if this was typical, her answer via e-mail, “It is routine for incoming board members to be sworn in before being seated in January to ensure the district has a quorum if needed should there be an emergency. There is a gap between January 1 and the organizational meeting on January 8, so new members are sworn in to allow district business to continue. Our new board members will be sworn in again on Jan. 8.”

OK, so back to the curious discussion on what was said in executive session and can be discussed openly. Stegeman, in response to Cuevas, said “It’s not going to change anything we did in executive session.”

While Grijalva was clearly confused as to why a revote was taking place, she wasn't alone. Hicks complained and noted how late it was — the meeting didn't end until well after 11 p.m.

Cuevas said, “Mr. Hicks, let me just try to clarify since Mark’s position’s not…. Is that if we vote this down, I think the concern is that what we did as a board is going to muddle the direction in that particular area. OK, so if we—if this gets voted down, or voted up, then that could potentially change the course of where we gave original direction which we cannot discuss in public. Well, we can’t discuss who made that direction.”

Grijalva noted that “It's part of a public document.” Cuevas said, “Well, yeah it is part of a public document, but we can't reveal what was said in executive session. So, the whole point I think Dr. Stegeman is making is that it’s crossing the direction where we’re trying to head.” Stegeman said, “I want a unified position.”

Pedicone interjected, “The simple terminology would be to just call for a revote. Just call for a revote and go around. And remember that voting no was against that objection not to go forward and voting yes was to suggest that you move it forward.” Durkin added, “A yes on this vote would mean that you would put the objection to that particular section of the plan forward.” Cuevas, “And a no?” Durkin, “And a no would mean that you would not put that objection forward.”

Hicks, in frustration, asked to go into executive session to better understand and when the board returned, the vote against the objection to culturally relevant curriculum was now unanimous — all no, 5-0, with Hicks and Stegeman changing their vote.

When we talked with Campoy Tuesday night, she told us that it was important became of the message it sends to Bury. “The court is going to know that the vote was 5-0, because let's say it was a 3-2 vote or split, it wouldn't have been as strong,” she said. “It's much more likely the judge is going to back us.”

When it was though this was a public change in heart, we asked her why?

“I honestly believe that all of the studies have had a cumulative impact on those three board members. Each of the studies have shown that these courses have had a significant impact on all students — achievement and graduation rates. That's finally reached the level of consciousness. … Something good is going on with these courses. A lot has to be attributed to that,” Campoy said.

“Also people showing up at all of these forums … all of these board meetings saying, 'We want these courses,'” we want these teachers.

But as the night progressed and a cautious excitement from MAS supporters ensued, Grijalva posted on her Facebook page, “Unfortunately the TUSD board vote tonight regarding Culturally Relevant Courses only voted down an ADDITIONAL objection to CRC's as core classes. The initial objection filed by TUSD still in effect. This issue will be rectified at 1st meeting with new board in January.”

On Wednesday, MAS balloons burst across the city, along with many, many questions. It was reported, “Hey, sorry for that crazy revote confusion, but yeah, the objection to MAS still stands.”

A statement was released by TUSD administration:

Clarification: TUSD Governing Board votes to approve the
Joint Proposed Unitary Status Plan, subject to objections
Board also votes to approves two additional objections

Tucson, AZ, Dec. 12, 2012 — The Tucson Unified School District Governing Board unanimously voted Tuesday night to approve the Joint Proposed Unitary Status Plan as submitted to the court on Dec. 10, subject to the objections noted therein, and set forth in the legal memorandum of objections filed Nov. 9.

The Nov. 9 legal memorandum includes objections to the culturally relevant course requirement and the term “core.” The board also voted to approve two new objections in regards to hiring timelines of district personnel and the creation of a task force. The memorandum is attached.

The final draft of the Unitary Status Plan will be submitted to the federal court on Dec. 14

Here is the copy of the memorandum, Rene refers to in the statement:

Document_1407_Objections_Memo.pdf

So, yeah, what just happened?

We asked Grijalva if, when she voted no in the second resolution, did she feel she was giving a directive to TUSD outside council to strike the objection from the first resolution regarding core curriculum? Her answer, “Yes.”

Grijalva agreed that logically, she thought the next step was for legal to file a notice of withdrawal of the objection. Grijalva said it seemed like the attorney understood this too during the meeting, and then when Stegeman brought up the revote she wasn't the only one confused.

We e-mailed the other board members for comment. Hicks, Sugiyama and Cuevas have not responded.

Grijalva said in the past, when discussing and giving legal direction on the desegregation case, it's been done in executive session. This time, for the most part, it was brought up as a resolution for a board vote “since there were changes to the original document.”

“I thought I was giving legal direction period,” she said.

Grijalva said she hopes to remedy the confusion and what took place on Tuesday, Jan. 8, the governing board's first meeting of the year and the first meeting with Juarez and Foster in attendance. The idea, she said, is a majority will now be in place that supports “culturally relevant curriculum as core classes,” i.e. Mexican-American studies — her, Foster and Juarez — who have all said in the past that ultimately they support the return of the classes.

During the desegregation forums held by Hawley, Grijalva and Foster both spoke out publicly, telling Hawley that they wanted to see stronger language in his final plan when it came to Mexican-American studies to help them bring it back next year. I asked Grijalva if she felt the new proposal's language was changed enough to make her feel it was something she and the new board majority could work with.

“ I don't think there is ambiguity in what's being requested, because now it specifically states Mexican-American and African-American (rather that just culturally relevant curriculum),” she said.

Grijalva said she's interpreting that the new plan is calling for both multicultural curriculum, as well as MAS and African-American classes as core classes.

“If I had my druthers it would be both,” she said.

When Stegeman called for the revote, it wouldn't be out of place to say his request bordered on rabid. He was adamant that a revote would take place. Why?

Grijalva agreed with Campoy.

“In my opinion he wanted to remove any mention of a split vote for the judge … so there's no mention of a second objection, otherwise it could be interpreted that there is a division in the board.”

There was no reason to bring it up for a revote at all, Grijalva said. “He thought there would be a majority that wanted to send that message” that the board didn't want the core classes. With the split vote, it looks like a weaker position.

We asked Stegeman about what took place and his adamant interest in the revote. His first response via e-mail, which in itself is fairly confusing:

The substantive vote was the first motion, which gave official Board approval to the plan but also to the district's previously filed objections to the plan, and two new objections. My problem with the first motion as drafted by counsel was that it would not be clear to someone who was not familiar with our court filings that the Board was ratifying the already filed objections to the paragraph mandating culturally relevant curriculum. The purpose of the second motion, which was originally part of the first motion but was then split off, was to clarify that (because I do think that we should try to be transparent about what we are doing). When the second motion unexpectedly (to me) failed, the situation unfortunately became even more confusing. It was not critical to revote the second motion, which had already failed, but I thought that voting it down unanimously would at least clarify that the Board was adopting a united position and that the second motion was substantively unimportant, even if it had passed. So what we are left with is the first motion, adopted unanimously, which unambiguously though somewhat opaquely put official Board approval on our counsel's previous filing of a legal memorandum that objects to the paragraph mandating culturally relevant curriculum.

It is worth noting that, in general, a failed motion never changes anything. So the failure of the second motion has the same legal impact as the motion never existing at all. What matters is the motion that passed.

I regret that the situation became so confusing to outside observers and understandably so. My goal had been to make our position transparent but in the event the sequence of votes made it even more confusing.

We asked additional questions in response.

Why the vote to begin with? “Our attorneys have taken various actions in this case but usually without explicit Board endorsement. We felt that it was important to put the weight of the Board clearly behind what our attorneys had been doing, as well as behind the plan itself, especially considering that we are raising no objections to most of it. The motion also raised a couple of brand new objections.”

Why the urgency for a revote: “I wanted the revote because I didn't want a Board split on this issue, and especially I didn't want the split to occur on what was much the less important motion. I thought the split would draw attention away from what was the main Board action.”

What about the board majority on Jan. 8th? “The new Board clearly has the option to take different stances on this issue than the old Board did. The old Board had to act however, because the court is accepting filings from the parties and the public only through Dec. 15th. I don't want to speculate on what the new Board may do; it makes more sense for people to talk to the new members directly and see what they say.”

Yes. We will.

A little more:

About the resolution, yes I'm concerned that the situation became so confusing but I think the confusion is being resolved fairly quickly. We need to be transparent in what we do. My second motion was intended to increase transparency but that plan clearly did not work.

If anyone had wanted to reverse the previous actions by the district's counsel, that would have required a motion to do that. Simply voting down a motion — any motion — has no legal impact. No one even raised the idea of a motion to reverse our counsel's previous action, which seems to indicate pretty clearly that at least a majority of the Board (still) supports those actions and filings.

Was the revote for Judge Bury’s benefit? Stegeman doesn't agree. “I was not thinking about Judge Bury, and if he goes beyond our legal filings to study the detailed processes of our Board meetings I would be much surprised.”

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