TUSD Suspense Continues

The Tucson Unified School District Governing Board announced last night they were once again postponing the agenda item concerning Superintendent H.T. Sánchez’s job.

The Duffy Community Center was so packed that overflow crowds had to wait outside. For over three hours, the board and superintendent were in executive session. At about 7:45 p.m., Sánchez somberly took his seat with the board and was met by loud applause from the audience. But not everyone was clapping.

For an hour, community members spoke for and against Sánchez with either raised-voice rancor or grateful tears on topics such as superintendent turnover rates, student-enrollment numbers, Prop 301 spending, childhood bullying, dropout rates, race and unsuccessful desegregation measures.

Several people spoke in Spanish with an English translator, recounting times Sánchez had personally helped their children.

Cassandra Becerra, a mother of TUSD students, is one of Sánchez’s supporters. While waiting for the meeting to start, she told the Tucson Weekly she’s seen the superintendent in the schools and fighting for the good of the district.

“I strongly believe he’s here because he cares about this district,” she said, holding a sign with a red, white and blue drawing of Sánchez, copying the iconic “hope” poster representing Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign.

David Morales, a TUSD parent and board-meeting regular, has been very critical of the board and Sánchez over issues such as underpaid teachers, teachers leaving the district and low student enrollment. He said TUSD has seen a drastic decline since Sánchez became superintendent, four years ago.

“I would like H.T. to leave town,” he said. “He’s not invested in this community.”

It’s not about firing Sánchez, newest board member Rachael Sedgwick said in a phone
interview in the days before Tuesday’s meeting. Sedgwick, who put the controversial item on the agenda just over a week ago, has issues with TUSD enrollment numbers, standardized testing scores, AP scores, graduation rates and drop-out rates, among other things and would like to see Sánchez follow a performance plan. She also said he’s welcome to resign.

President of the Tucson Education Association Jason Freed said this doesn’t make sense because the superintendent already has goals and measures that are part of his contract and approved by the school board. Amending those measures would be fine, but the agenda item does not imply that type of action, he said.

“It’s unfortunate that we’re taking the focus away from educating our kids,” Freed said, adding that the current controversy is about personal disputes, which shouldn’t be occupying hundreds of Tucsonans on a Tuesday night.

People in the community and other board members have said it seems like Sedgwick has a personal vendetta against Sánchez. But board member Mark Stegeman said that’s unlikely because Sedgwick has been talking about the superintendent’s performance since her election campaign last year.

The board wants to resolve this issue quickly because letting it drag on hurts the district, Stegeman said in an interview before the meeting.

“Getting to some speedy conclusion—whatever that is—is definitely something we want to do so people know what’s going on,” he said. “I think TUSD has a lot of positive potential and some fantastic assets, and it could be a superlative school district.”