Potential for the Crazy: Tonight's TUSD Board Meeting

Occasional Tucson Weekly contributor David Safier wrote a great piece recently for Blog for Arizona on an agenda item for tonight's Tucson Unified School District governing board meeting, which, yeah, starts pretty soon—the board is in executive session right now and the public meeting kicks off at 6:30 p.m.

On the agenda is discussion about closing a TUSD high school and using the space for a larger University High School location, and the fact that the agenda item comes from board member Mark Stegeman who's been jonsing for UHS since the end of 2012.

From Safier:

This isn't a new idea. It's a revival of an idea TUSD board member Mark Stegeman proposed during the whole school closure debate in 2012. It's on the agenda again (Item 10) for the upcoming board meeting Tuesday, November 12.

You can read the proposal here. The basic idea: Shut down a TUSD high school, send all of its kids to other schools and reopen it as a new, larger University High School (UHS). I assume this would mean shutting down the current UHS at Rincon High, though that isn't spelled out in the proposal. The purpose is to expand UHS, both to accomodate a larger number of TUSD students as mandated by the desegregation plan, and to continue to make space for students from neighboring districts to enroll in the school.

I think this is a terrible idea, not because I oppose the expansion of UHS — I think it's a good, and probably a necessary, idea — but because I oppose the way Stegeman wants to go about it. He's putting TUSD back into that nasty, divisive school closure territory once again, this time at the high school level. His proposal would mean displacing an entire high school student body and sending the students elsewhere. An all-inclusive high school would be closed, which would have a negative impact on the neighborhood. I haven't seen any specific recommendations from Stegeman about which school he's targeting — I imagine he has one or two possibilities in mind — so I don't know what school would be emptied of its current students.

Well, and because Stegeman is a well-known active Facebook commentor, once Safier posted his blog on his Facebook page, an interesting conversation began to take place that included Stegeman, Safier and the Arizona Education Network's Ann-Eve Pedersen (who frankly, kicked some Facebook butt).

Safier followed up with another post asking a question that has long been part of many education folks coffeehouse talks, does Mark Stegeman drive TUSD superintendents away? (or another, does Stegeman do things in the background that causes division on the board and huge headaches for the superintendent, like his own investigations [not just the recent superintendent candidates]):

From Safier:

When I put my recent post, Stegeman proposal: Close a TUSD high school, reopen it as the new University High campus, on Facebook, it generated a long comment stream. Much of it was a back-and-forth between a few people, including me, Mark Stegeman and Ann-Eve Pedersen. In Ann-Eve's comments, she stated in so many words that Stegeman's actions on the board helped chase away the last two superintendents, Elizabeth Celania-Fagen and John Pedicone, and could result in a similarly short tenure for current superintendent H.T. Sanchez. I've heard similar statements from other sources.

I don't know a great deal about the inner workings of TUSD, so I can't verify what Ann-Eve says. But I've worked with her closely on our cable access show, "Education: The Rest of the Story," and I have found her assertions to be both well researched and accurate, so I take what she says very seriously.

Here are some excerpts from Facebook comments she made under my blog post.

"[Stegeman's] dysfunctional behavior helped drive out TUSD's past two superintendents; we need to make sure he doesn't do the same to Dr. Sanchez. If he does, our children will be the big losers."

"Stegeman gets into power struggles with sitting superintendents - that is his modus operandi. It is toxic for the district."

[In response to another commenter saying Elizabeth Celania-Fagen left TUSD because she is a "climber"]. "Liz Fagen had just moved her family here, where she was closer to her mother. She did not leave because she was a climber. She would have preferred to stay. She left, in large part, because she had a problem board member who continues to operate as a solo player and create divisions where they need not exist."

[Commenter Luci Messing backed up Ann-Eve's statement: "Ann-Eve is correct. I know that is what Fagen actually said."]

"Mark, I would say you irritated Dr. Fagen . . . by launching your own investigation into a tricky personnel matter at Rincon High School involving the principal. Clearly, not within the realm of a board member."

"I understand that you don't want the larger public to know the extent to which you make superintendents' jobs miserable through your micromanagement - but it's time to get that information out there. Please let Dr. Sanchez do his job. He's bright, competent and doesn't need extreme interference. No power plays, please."

I've written about my disagreements with Mark on many occasions, especially while the Mexican American Studies program was under attack. But this, if true, goes beyond disagreements about pedagogy and policy. If Mark's actions as a board member make it difficult for superintendents to do their job, if superintendents leave early because of Mark's interference, he is a destructive force in the district who harms the staff, the community, and most important, the children who attend district schools.

At Weekly World Central, Safier is considered a badass on local education issues ... in other words he's a gem of wisdom that man. Which means tonight's TUSD board meeting will be worth watching, at least maybe for the quality drama that could ensue.

Here's a link to the TUSD's agendas and remember, you can watch and Tweet the board meetings from the comfort of your living room couch or a good bar stool (my recommendation). Meetings livestreamed here. Drinking game idea: Take a shot every time board member Michael Hicks is confused or cheer every time board member Kristel Foster brings everyone to reality ("People are watching us right now"). Maybe that would be a good time to eat something, just to balance it all out.