Guest Commentary

An open letter to new TUSD school board member Alexandre Borges Sugiyama

I have been involved in Tucson Unified School District issues for about 30 years. I am a former TUSD teacher, parent and citizens' desegregation oversight committee member. I had hoped that my first communication with you would be to congratulate you on your appointment to the board, but the circumstances make that impossible.

I could not, for the life of me, figure out what your TUSD involvement had been prior to your appointment. I wondered, "Where in the world did this person come from?" Typically, those seeking to serve the district as board members have acquired some depth of understanding about the district through their visible and active involvement as parents or community members. This was not the case with you.

TUSD-involved individuals had never heard of you or seen you. But I decided to give you the benefit of the doubt, thinking that perhaps someone with minimal history with the district could bring a new outlook. Well, I was apparently wrong.

I recently noticed that governing-board meetings have started later than had been the practice. This means that the meetings end later at night. This is not considerate of parents and students who have early work and school schedules. It also puts a strain on TUSD staff members, since their work days have become very long. I inquired about what caused this disruption to the traditional meeting times, and I have come to learn that it is based on your work schedule. Didn't you consider this when you applied for the appointment? Perhaps you were unaware of the hours since you had seldom, if ever, attended board meetings.

As I was inquiring about the board-meeting scheduling changes, many individuals shared their concerns with me about your employment status in relation to Mark Stegeman at the University of Arizona. I was shocked to learn that Stegeman, as a faculty member at the University of Arizona Eller College of Management's Economics Department, is in a superior position to yours as a lecturer. As someone told me, "The faculty member has all of the power, and the lecturer must do what is asked of him in order to advance." Faculty members often have a significant impact on the career paths of those who are subordinate within the same department. So, the pressing questions are: How has Dr. Stegeman's superior position over you influenced you to apply for the governing-board position, and to vote in lockstep with his positions? Your overnight passion for TUSD governance has struck me and others as less than genuine, and as your relationship with and ties to Dr. Stegeman continue to be revealed, speculation swells about your true interests in seeking the governing-board appointment.

If you are not aware, I was one of the candidates who was considered for the governing-board appointment. When I examined the list of candidates, I was surprised to see 54 names. It was promising! The list included so many people who had in-depth knowledge about TUSD, and I felt that no matter what, we would wind up with someone who had genuine interest, commitment and expertise on the board.

Five people were appointed to serve on the selection committee after a great deal of dissention on the board. To simplify, Mark Stegeman essentially appointed two individuals; Michael Hicks; Adelita Grijalva and Miguel Cuevas each appointed one. Although I am not a math whiz, it is very clear that with 60 percent influence over what type of candidate Stegeman and Hicks were seeking, the process tilted in their direction. It is no wonder that the results were as they are.

Would you have been appointed by the Pima County school superintendent had she known about your employment and academic status in relation to that of Stegeman in the Economics Department? Did you do full-disclosure with her office? Was she aware of the composition of the selection committee in having two board members essentially appoint 60 percent of the committee?

There seems to be a lot more to Stegeman's argument not to disclose his email communications having to do with what resulted in your appointment. But here is the real deal: I am watching you, and so is the community. Perhaps an official investigation into these matters should be launched.

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