Tucson Unified School District's newest board member Rachael Sedgwick stirred controversy by adding an agenda item to Tuesday's regular TUSD Governing Board meeting. The item, bringing Superintendent H.T. Sánchez's job into question, will be heard at a special meeting next Tuesday.
The TUSD Superintendent’s job is still at risk, although discussion of it was absent from Tuesday night’s board meeting.
The crowd of more than a hundred people cheered at the beginning of Tucson Unified School District’s regular board meeting when the controversial item was removed from the agenda. For an hour and a half, one after the other, community members stood at the podium to thank Superintendent H.T. Sánchez and commend the work he’s doing with the district.
Nonetheless, a special meeting has been called for Tuesday, Feb. 21, where the question of Sánchez’s job will be back on the agenda, according to Rachael Sedgwick, the board’s newest member.
At the Feb. 14 meeting, 20 people spoke in support of the superintendent and three in opposition.
Community member Brian Flagg said Sánchez is present at school events and people like him.
“He brings his family, he hangs out, and he talks to people until the last person leaves—and he does it in Spanish,” he said. “I think the guy’s got real popular support.”
On Tuesday, the board received more than 75 emails in support of the superintendent and two in opposition, according to Board members Adelita Grijalva and Kristel Foster. Supporters of Sánchez include Michael Varney, President of the Tucson Metro Chamber, and Mayor Jonathan Rothschild.
Sedgwick, who put the item on the agenda, would like to see Sánchez make some changes but says it’s apparent he’s not open to working with her.
“It’s really not about firing H.T.,” she said. “It's really is about exploring the different opportunities and giving him a choice.”
She would like to see the board create a performance plan to assess progress the superintendent makes with the district. In particular, Sedgwick is concerned with enrollment numbers, standardized testing scores, AP scores, graduation rates and drop-out rates.
Sedgwick also thinks Sánchez spends too much time at the Arizona Legislature.
“The superintendent’s job is really not to be lobbying the legislators in Phoenix,” she said. “I believe the superintendent does not visit the schools very often and that it means that we, as a district, have sort of lost sight about the reasons that TUSD exists.”
Sánchez could not be reached for a response.
Sedgwick says she has the backing of Board member Mark Stegeman and that Board President Michael Hicks is open to discussion.
Other board members think bringing the superintendent’s job into question right now distracts the board from more important things and opens them up to possible legal problems.
“What we’re doing here is a side-show circus,” Grijalva said. “If I’m a parent of a kindergartner or someone who’s coming from a charter school and looking for a middle or high school for my child, why would I pick TUSD? Because all I see in the headlines is this drama.”
Foster says terminating the superintendent with no backup plan is a dangerous decision, and putting that option suddenly on the agenda is not the way to solve a problem.
“We’re, right now, in the middle of a legislative session, trying to advocate on behalf of public education,” Foster said. “This shows absolutely no understanding of what we do as public officials that represent a school district.”
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