Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Who's Afraid of the TUSD School Closure Issue?

Posted By on Wed, Nov 2, 2016 at 2:21 PM

Mark Stegeman doesn't want school closures to be an election issue. "Nothing to see here, folks, move along," he wrote Tuesday as part of a Q&A to the people on his email list. Well, that's not exactly what he wrote. Here's the passage in the email.
Are school closures on anyone’s agenda?
No one was even discussing closures until a few weeks ago. This ghost issue was apparently created for the election and will fade in a week, as quickly as it appeared. It is an artfully timed distraction from TUSD's genuine problems.
An "artfully timed distraction," not "on anyone's agenda"? I can understand why Stegeman might want voters to believe that. His campaign is built around spotlighting problems in TUSD and the board majority he holds responsible. School closures are a sticky issue for him. While he's been on the board, 20 schools have closed. If you look at his statements about further closures, you'll find out he's against them, except for what he calls "isolated further closures"—oh, and except for high schools where he wants to "study the potential costs and benefits of high school consolidation." Stegeman was for school closures before he was against school closures at the same time he's for school closures, or something like that. His stand is wildly inconsistent. No wonder he wants to convince people it's a non-issue, so he can go back to his aggrieved minority position. It's easier to ask hard questions of others than to answer hard questions about school closures himself.

Contrary to what Stegeman asserts, school closures are a genuine, relevant issue in the board election. The newly elected board members will serve four years, through 2020, and school closures will almost certainly be on the agenda at some point during their tenure. Four years is a long time. We're likely to see changes in population density, the ethnic makeup of the community and overall student enrollment, which means the board will be called on to consider how best to utilize school buildings and whether some of them should be closed. If TUSD history is a guide, the new board will probably find itself hiring a new superintendent. Each candidate for the job is likely to be asked the school closure question, and board members will have to weigh the answers. Voters have a right to know where candidates stand on this very real issue.

Voters should also consider whether they think a $35,000 effort to oust Cam Juarez and Kristel Foster by the independent expenditure committee, TUSD Kids First, is an attempt to come up with a more closure-friendly board. I don't remember any TUSD board election with anything near $35,000 thrown at it. It's reasonable to ask why five business people would spend between $3,300 and $8,000 apiece to change the board majority. It's especially reasonable to ask why Kathleen and James Campbell, the owners of a home building company which has bid unsuccessfully to purchase three closed school sites, would spend a total of $10,000 on the campaign—$8,000 on TKF and another $1,000 each for candidates Mark Stegeman and Brett Rustand—wonder whether a board favoring school closures would open up land in prime housing areas for them to build on.

Board candidates' positions on future school closures aren't the only issue in the election. It may not even be the most important issue. But regardless of what Stegeman says, it's a real issue for voters to consider.

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