Friday, October 28, 2016

Mark Stegeman: For or Against Closing Schools? Or Both? It's Hard to Tell

Posted By on Fri, Oct 28, 2016 at 12:47 PM

Tim Steller has a worthwhile column for anyone who wants to learn more about the twists and turns of what he calls this "mean and ugly" TUSD board race. There's lots worth discussing in the column, but I want to focus on a short quote from Mark Stegeman where he kind-of denies wanting to close more schools, with one possible exception.
“I have said repeatedly, for several years, that closures are not on my agenda, with the possible exception of one high school, since we never reached the question of closing any of our 10 major high schools. It is also not on TUSD’s current agenda; it is a completely made-up issue.”
So, according to Stegeman, he has no closures on his "agenda." Interesting word, "agenda." It doesn't mean he's against more closures. It just means it's not foremost in his mind right now. Currently, he's not considering putting the issue on a TUSD board agenda. In the future? Who knows?

Except, he might seriously consider closing a high school, though since that's not on the "current agenda," it also shouldn't be talked about right now. He might bring it up soon, but not now.

He sums up by saying the whole closure thing "is a completely made-up issue.” The reason is, it's "not on TUSD's current agenda." Of course, board members are elected to four year terms, which means they'll be making decisions long after the "current agenda" is history, so their view on all issues related to the district, including school closures, is a real issue. But Stegeman doesn't want to discuss that right now.

I've written that I think Stegeman should be voted off the board because of his game-player's strategy of taking positions, not so much because he agrees with them, but more because he wants to create alliances to build a power base which will increase his influence in district decision making. His short quote in Steller's column with all its positions and half-positions is a good example. It allows Stegeman to argue that he's on anyone's side, depending on who he's talking to at the moment. If you're trying to figure out where Stegeman stands on the issue of school closures in the near or far term using this quote, you have your work cut out for you.

We have two other recent Stegeman statements which continue to confuse his stand on school closures, one from the candidate forum at Palo Verde High on October 4 and another in a statement he made online Oct. 10.

At the candidate forum, the question was, "Do you think there will be, or should be, any school closures in the next few years?" Though the question addressed future closures, Stegeman spent most of his answer talking about past closures, then only had time to say,
"I do not agree with the current agenda of closing more schools. I think, we closed twenty. That was a lot."
In Steller's column, Stegeman said school closings are "not on TUSD's agenda." At the forum he talks about "the current agenda of closing more schools." It sounds like a contradiction, though, to be fair, when words come tumbling out of your mouth in answer to a question, they don't always express exactly what you mean to say.

So let's look at an online statement Stegeman wrote on the subject of school closures which was posted a week after the forum, where he had plenty of time to make sure what he wrote reflected his views. He begins by talking about the district's history of closures, then has a three paragraph section subtitled, "Closures going forward."
When people ask about school closures, my answer is always the same: we have closed 20 schools since I joined the board, which means that we have already picked the low-hanging fruit. Isolated further closures may make sense, but that is not on anyone’s current agenda and is far down the list of pressing issues facing TUSD. In 2009 it was a pressing issue, but not now.

The one exception, as I have said for years, lies in the ten major high schools. The previous closure rounds excluded the major high schools, and Pedicone left before we did any serious analysis of that part. High school enrollment has held up fairly well, which argues against closure, but it makes sense to study the potential costs and benefits of high school consolidation.

People often ask about closing Sabino High School, because of its relatively small enrollment. The problem with closing Sabino is that almost all of its students would end up outside of TUSD. The revenue loss would be so great that the closure makes no sense. Sabino is not, from my viewpoint, a closure candidate.
Here's the same mixed agenda one more time. We closed 20 schools on my watch, Stegeman writes, so more closures aren't on the district's current agenda. However, he could be for closing more schools in the future, but let's not talk about that right now, since it's not a pressing issue. But then again, we should be looking at the possibility of closing high schools in the nearer future.

Then comes an entire paragraph devoted to the reason he wouldn't consider closing one school, Sabino High. Why devote an entire paragraph to one school in a general discussion about school closures? Maybe it's just for completeness. Or maybe it's because Sabino has a majority of Anglo students and is in a reasonably affluent area where the voters tend to stay informed and show up at the polls, and Stegeman wants to assure them that he wouldn't put their school on the chopping block. I'll let the reader decide which interpretation, completeness or game playing, makes more sense.

So, is Stegeman for closing more schools or not? The jury is out, which is just how Stegeman likes it.

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