Wednesday, October 12, 2016

My Picks for the TUSD School Board: Cam Juarez, Kristel Foster, Betts Putnam-Hidalgo

Posted By on Wed, Oct 12, 2016 at 11:54 AM

  • Courtesy of PhotoSpin
Before I discuss my choices for the TUSD board, I want to make it clear that these are my personal picks. The Weekly will make its endorsements sometime in the future, and I have no input in those decisions.

I want to see Cam Juarez and Kristel Foster reelected to the board because I believe TUSD should continue in the direction it is heading, which is mostly positive—though it's clear, of course, that there are areas in need of improvement which they and the district must focus on and address. I want Betts Putnam-Hidalgo to serve on the board because she will be a source of informed, intelligent dissent. Though I often disagree with Betts—not so much in what she wants for the district as the way she wants to go about it—her input will promote valuable discussion of difficult issues, pushing the board to make decisions which will help move the district forward. I agree with all three candidates in their overall beliefs in promoting progressive ideas regarding social and educational issues.

It would be foolish not to recognize that Tucson's school district has areas of weakness, many of them longstanding. Superintendent Sanchez and the three board members who generally support him have made progress in addressing some of the issues facing the district, but there is obviously more that needs to be done. However, these problems are not unique to TUSD, nor can they be fixed easily.

I spend a great deal of time and effort keeping up with what's going on in education across the country. Over and over, I read about districts with glaring problems and passionate, vocal critics. Most of them are in urban centers with large minority populations. That shouldn't be a surprise. The problems facing our urban centers are of a magnitude and complexity you rarely find in other parts of the country, and the problems extend far beyond the realm of education. In that context, it shouldn't be surprising that TUSD, which is in a reasonably large city and serves a majority-minority student population, has its share of challenges and a wide range of critics.

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Monday, October 10, 2016

More on the Financial Backers of 'TUSD Kids First'

Posted By on Mon, Oct 10, 2016 at 11:15 AM

A few weeks ago I posted about the independent expenditure campaign, TUSD Kids First. The main takeaway was that TKF had collected a total of $35,150, most of it from five local businesspeople: Committee Chair Jimmy Lovelace, $3,334; Treasurer Kathleen Campbell, $8,170;  Cody Richie, $7,500; Jim Click, $7,500; and Tom Regina, $5,000. At the time, the TUSD board candidates and TKF had submitted their Pima County campaign finance reports listing their contributions through Aug. 18. Since then, a new set of finance reports have been filed which include contributions through Sept. 19. The only new contribution to TKF was from Jimmy Lovelace for $216.05. However, new contributions to the candidates reveal more about the priorities of the independent expenditure committee.

TDK appears to have two main objectives. The first, which has been clear since the IE began in February, is to get rid of either or both of two current board members, Cam Juarez and Kristel Foster. That would shift the balance of power to a new board majority, replacing the current majority formed by Juarez, Foster and Adelita Grijalva to one which included Mark Stegeman and Michael Hicks. The second objective, which has become clearer with the most recent financial statements, is to elect Brett Rustand as a member of the new majority. 

Three of the major TKF contributors, Ritchie, Campbell and Flake, have been active in contributing to individual board candidates. Let's go through them one by one.

We'll begin with Cody Ritchie, even though at $7,500, he's not the largest TKF contributor, nor is he one of the two people running the committee. The reason to begin with Ritchie is, he's the principal owner and president of Crest Insurance Group. Board candidate Brett Rustand is a vice president at Crest, one of more than twenty employees with that title; it's a large company. That means Ritchie is Rustand's boss and most likely would be delighted to see his employee sitting on the TUSD board. Ritchie is a generous political donor who has given over $100,000 to political candidates over the past ten years, exclusively Republican candidates, including most recently, more than $5,000 to Donald Trump. His one contribution to a 2016 TUSD board candidate was for $1,000 to Brett Rustand. He gave $1,500 to Michael Hicks' reelection campaign in 2014.

Next is Kathleen Campbell who gave $8,170 to TKF and is its treasurer. She isn't listed as giving any contributions to board candidates. However, her husband James gave $1,000 to Mark Stegeman's campaign and another $1,000 to Brett Rustand. Other than their contributions related to TUSD board races, the Campbells aren't big political donors. The only other recent contribution I found was $1,250 to Martha McSally's reelection campaign.

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Friday, October 7, 2016

Conservative AZ Leaders to TUSD: 'Let's You and Him Fight'

Posted By on Fri, Oct 7, 2016 at 1:30 PM

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I don't know if Tom Horne and John Huppenthal, Arizona's two most recent ex-superintendents of education, ever get together, and I don't know if either of them spend any time with recalled Republican State Senator Russell Pearce. But the three of them definitely should find time to gather and celebrate now and then. They have every reason to high five one another as they look down from Phoenix at the political and personal battles raging in and around TUSD and say to each other, "Look at the mess we created down there. We did some good work, didn't we?"

Conservative Republicans outside of the Tucson area no longer have to expend much energy trying to take down the school district which serves the children of the city they love to hate, the Democratic-leaning metropolitan area they think of as "The People's Republic of Tucson." They took a problem-ridden district and planted within it the bitter seeds of dissension and animosity. They helped create anti-district alliances among groups on the right and the left which previously had been at odds. Then they sat back and watched with satisfaction as forces in the school district and the community tear each other apart.

TUSD has long been a district with a reputation of poor management and poorer financial practices, and it couldn't hold onto its superintendents, shedding them almost as regularly as trees shed their autumn leaves. But for all that, the district has always had its share of strong schools, strong teachers and strong programs. Among its strengths was the Mexican American Studies program which had a national reputation for innovation and excellence. It served a portion of the Hispanic community, as well as some non-Hispanic community members, who wanted to give their children a representation of Mexican and Mexican-American history and culture different from the more mainstream depiction which disparaged them. A dedicated core of teachers and administrators worked diligently to create a curriculum and an ethos which instilled pride in students while it dispelled some of the negative stereotypes which are pervasive in the normal school curriculum and society at large, empowering students with knowledge of the positive aspects of their history and traditions and spotlighting ways society has conspired to keep them poor, powerless and self hating. The program was well known and respected in some parts of the Tucson community, and disliked in some others, but beyond those groups, it mostly flew under the radar. It was just one of many programs in the school district about which the general public had little knowledge.

Then, a golden opportunity to demonize MAS fell in the lap of the right wing scream machine. Three words spoken at a school assembly by Delores Huerta, an icon of the labor movement and the fight for Hispanic rights, were used to spark conservative outrage. "Republicans hate Latinos," Huerta said.  The phrases and sentences surrounding those three words qualified them and made them less incendiary, but all anyone heard from her talk was, "Republicans hate Latinos." National right wing media seized on the words, and Arizona's conservative community latched onto them with a vicious glee. It was Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks saying she was "ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas" all over again. It was John Lennon saying the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. Unlike the Maines and Lennon episodes, Huerta's words didn't lead to record burnings, reminiscent of book burnings, cheered on by self righteous, cheering mobs, but they led to a reinvigorated wave of anti-brown agitation, fear and hatred.

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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

What is 'The Tax Foundation,' and Why Does It Rank Arizona 21st in Tax Policies?

Posted By on Tue, Oct 4, 2016 at 3:35 PM


You may have seen the article in today's Star written by an AZ Republic reporter, Report ranks Arizona better than average for tax policies. According to the article, Arizona is number 21 in the national rankings. Not bad. In fact, that sounds like the kind of thing Governor Ducey might brag about. But the ranking is in a report from the Tax Foundation, meaning it ranks Arizona 21st in the nation for its business-friendly tax policies. As for everyone else, we'll just have to hope some of that business friendliness trickles its way down to us, though the reality is, the decades-long trend toward ever-lower taxes for businesses and the rich has sent the nation's wealth galloping upward, creating income inequality like we haven't seen since the Gilded Age.

The Republic article fails to mention the name of the Tax Foundation report is, 2017 State Business Tax Climate Index.

The Tax Foundation is a conservative group which advocates for lower taxes, especially for business. Of its four founding members in 1937, two were the chairman and financial vice president of General Motors, and a third was the president of Standard Oil. The group gets Koch Brothers funding through the brothers' labyrinthine network of organizations which launder money by tossing it back and forth until its origin is obscured. It makes sure to air its opinion at ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) meetings. In 2011, the Tax Foundation's president spoke to ALEC's Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force about corporate taxes and international competitiveness, and one of its vice presidents introduced a "Resolution Urging Congress to Cut the Federal Corporate Tax Rate."

Let's break down Arizona's tax rating to see why the Foundation thinks we're above average. The state ranks high—meaning we tax low—when it comes to corporate and income taxes. We're 19th in the nation on both. Our property tax ranking is even better. We're at number 6. We rank 13th in unemployment insurance, meaning we're the 13th friendliest to businesses in that category. For workers who need unemployment insurance, that's not such a good thing.

Where Arizona's ranking with the Foundation tanks is in the area of sales tax. We're 47th in that category, meaning our sales tax rates are far too high for the Foundation's liking. It's not really the tax cutters' fault, though. To lower business and income taxes, our conservative legislature has shifted the burden to the most regressive of all taxes, the sales tax.

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Monday, October 3, 2016

Is TUSD Stiffing Teachers? The Star Says So, Repeatedly.

Posted By on Mon, Oct 3, 2016 at 3:04 PM

  • Courtesy of PhotoSpin
If you've been looking at coverage of education issues in the Star recently, you've read that TUSD is shafting teachers by keeping their compensation unnecessarily low. In July of this year, Alexis Huicochea wrote an article headlined, Tucson Unified going slow on teacher raises despite Prop. 123. Then last Friday, Tim Steller wrote a column with the headline, TUSD teachers' money balanced district's books. Most likely, neither of the Star staffers wrote their own headlines, but their stories make a similar point: TUSD is holding back money that should be going into teacher compensation.

Is it true? That's a complicated question which I can't answer to my complete satisfaction. I'm sure the claim in the Huicochea article is mostly false. I don't know how accurate Steller's column is, though I know he didn't make his point clearly and forcefully enough for me to arrive at a satisfactory answer.

Before looking at the two articles, I want to separate out two related but distinct issues. One is the question of how much money teachers make through their salaries and other compensation. The other is where the money comes from—which funding sources are used to pay teachers. Both are worthy of discussion, but they're two separate topics, and when they're tangled together, it can lead to sloppy logic and false conclusions.

The funding source issue is part of a very complex discussion about budgets which is beyond my ability to sort out successfully, though I try. Huicochea and Steller aren't experts in the art of budget analysis either, based on what they've written. I don't get the sense they understand the process any better than I do. And even people who have the necessary background in school district budgeting and accounting and make the effort to sort out budget issues can disagree.

The Star pieces are focused on two different TUSD funding sources: Prop 123 and Prop 301. Their assertions, so far as I can tell, are at least partly accurate when it comes to the specific use of the money flowing from those two propositions. But even if there were questions about how the funding was distributed, does that mean teachers got less money than they should have received, as the pieces maintain? Let's start by looking at Huicochea's article.

In her article, Huicochea left the distinct impression that TUSD teachers were only getting a $700 raise, far less than teachers in other local districts, and according to her article, the reason was, the district reneged on its promise to devote most of its Prop 123 funds to teacher salaries. But if you look at the new employee contract, it shows returning TUSD teachers received a $2,000 raise. Here's the 2015-16 contract. Here's the 2016-17 contract. You'll see two identical looking teacher salary tables, but the numbers on the 2016-17 contract in each category are $1,500 higher than they were in 2015-16. Moving up a year in experience adds another $500. That means a returning teacher gets a $2,000 salary boost.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Remind Me Again, Why Does Arizona Have a Teacher Shortage?

Posted By on Wed, Sep 28, 2016 at 6:17 PM

  • Courtesy of pixabay
A research paper from the Learning Policy Institute concludes that there's a nationwide shortage of teachers, and the number of students in teacher education programs has dropped dramatically over the past five years, meaning the shortage is likely to continue.

A recent report from the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association says Arizona is currently about 2000 teachers short (I haven't been able to locate the report online, so I don't know the details).

The Learning Policy Institute study gave each state a "teacher attractiveness rating." Arizona ranked dead last.

Now there's another study from WalletHub, 2016’s Best & Worst States for Teachers. In this one, Arizona climbs all the way to 49th, ahead of West Virginia and Hawaii. Here are the Arizona rankings by category. Annual salaries: Number 47. Projected teachers per student by the year 2022: Number 50. Pupil-teacher ratio: Number 49. Lowest spending per student: Number 50. School systems ranking: Number 48.

Put them all together, they spell SHORTAGE. (S is for the Sorry school funding. H is for Horrendous teacher pay . . .)

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Katy Perry: Back At It Again With The Tucson Reference

Posted By on Tue, Sep 27, 2016 at 3:58 PM

If the song "Closer" by the Chainsmokers didn't call enough attention to Tucson, Katy Perry is here to give us Tucsonans another shout out. In this video Katy Perry speaks to the fact that on Nov. 8, it doesn't matter what you are wear as long as you vote.

While making her point she gives examples: You can show up to the polls in a onesie, dressed as Sleeping Beauty or even in only an oversized shirt from your bank — but Perry didn't just show a shirt from just any bank to illustrate her point. No, she used a Bank of Tucson shirt. 

So, if we have all learned anything from this video:

1. Register to vote.

2. Remember to vote on Nov. 8.

3. Everyone loves Tucson.

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Monday, September 26, 2016

Voucher-friendly 'American Federation for Children' PAC Spent $218,000 on Arizona's Primaries

Posted By on Mon, Sep 26, 2016 at 4:34 PM


Three years ago during the 2013 legislative session, Democratic State Senator Barbara McGuire voted against an expansion of the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts—aka Education Savings Accounts, aka Vouchers of Steroids—and the bill went down to defeat. Then an odd thing happened. McGuire agreed to a motion to reconsider the bill, changed her vote from No to Yes, and it passed. The Arizona Capitol Times was confused about why she did it. Maybe it was a quid pro quo to get some of her bills passed, the reporter wrote. No, that wasn't it. The main reason: McGuire was one of 15 Arizona candidates who received backing from the pro-privatization American Federation for Children PAC in 2012, one of only two Democrats the PAC supported. AFC made what it called "an investment of $140,000" in the Arizona races, and it picked her as a good investment opportunity because she already leaned towards the pro-voucher camp. It's best for a pro-voucher Democrat like McGuire to vote against vouchers when she knows the bill will pass without her help. But when a Republican senator balked and voted No, McGuire stepped in and did her duty.

I posted about McGuire's vote and her ESA connection on Blog for Arizona where I was writing at the time, but the MSM missed the connection entirely. Now, however, it looks like people are becoming more savvy about the money that pours into our elections to support education privatization. The AZ Republic has an excellent article explaining that the AFC, which it calls "A Washington, D.C.-based school-choice advocacy group," poured $218,000 into our primary races to help elect legislators who are likely to vote to expand ESAs.
Many of those candidates — including those who were targeted and those who benefited from its spending — said they were caught off guard by the federation's efforts to influence their races.

“We support candidates who support our issue,” said Matt Frendewey, national communications director for the American Federation for Children​. "It isn’t the first time we’ve put money in Arizona, it won’t be the last time."

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Staff Pick

Free 14th Annual Trunk or Treat Event at NW YMCA

5 pm: Food Truck Round Up Free 5:30 Trunk or Treating (candy & treats) Crafts & Games… More

@ Northwest YMCA Sat., Oct. 29, 5-8 p.m. 7770 N. Shannon Road.

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