Judgment Matters

TUSD, plaintiffs head back to court over deseg budget and implementation

There's been no word from U.S. District Judge David C. Bury on TUSD's desegregation budget that was filed May 8 in federal court, followed by hundreds of pages filed in response from the plaintiffs representing Latino and African-American students as well as from the U.S. Department of Justice.

When Tucson Unified School District governing board members were presented with the budget for adoption at a May 7 board meeting, board member Kristel Foster pointed out that the final desegregation plan approved by the court in mid-February requires that the district hire a multicultural curriculum director to develop and implement a districtwide multicultural curriculum. The plan also calls for hiring a separate culturally relevant curriculum, or CRC, director for the development and implementation of Mexican-American and African-American studies classes.

"First of all, what would you say is the most highly contested area of the budget?" Foster asked TUSD attorney Sam Brown.

Brown said it was the overhead, but Foster pressed him to describe CRC and multicultural curriculum as the most "controversial in our community," pointing out that the district's latest plan to roll the multicultural and CRC directors into one position goes against the deseg plan.

Brown said the issue is tricky because the plan is a legal document and attorneys from the different sides in the ongoing desegregation case can look at the plan differently. "According to the (plan), the district has the authority to organize itself as it sees fit."

Foster countered that she sees the deseg plan as protecting the district from itself because it has a history of not meeting the needs of its minority students. "We need to challenge ourselves. Are we funding enough to make it successful?" she said.

The board voted 3-2 in support of the budget going before the federal court, with board members Michael Hicks and Mark Stegeman voting no. Brown explained that the plan is flexible and that the board can make personnel and other budgeting changes a number of times per year, perhaps up to six times.

Filed with Bury on May 20, the Justice Department objections were not that objectionable in nature, but made it clear that despite the recommendations of the special master overseeing the case, what the district needed was time to show it will do what is required of it in the deseg plan.

"And the question of whether the district has complied in good faith with the (plan) is—in large part— not yet ripe," the filing stated, "given that the implementation of many of the (plan) provisions has just recently begun."

While the Justice Department is willing to let the district prove itself, attorneys representing Mexican-American and African-American students have asked the court to increase its involvement in the implementation of the deseg plan.

According to a filing on May 20 from Tucson attorney Ruben Salter, representing the interests of African-American students, there are issues with the special master as well as the TUSD governing board that merit more court involvement in the deseg process. The special master "failed to incorporate or respond to many of the plaintiffs' comments," Salter wrote, while the governing board's rejection of four special master recommendations shows that the board has an "aversion to adopting recommendations it feared might possibly limit its authority to act how and when it sees fit."

A May 20 court filing by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF, includes eight exhibits to support its claim that the district isn't being transparent in this latest process, and that when it comes to the deseg budget, the district also has a track record of not using deseg funds that have actually improved the education of African-American and Latino students.

One area of the district's deseg budget that troubles MALDEF is the $8 million earmarked for transportation without any line-item expenditures listed. "The district's failure to explain how this $8 million will be spent is a failure to provide 'transparency' and 'public accountability' required by the court," the document states.

What further troubled MALDEF attorneys is that the district has also not explained how it will handle transportation for magnet schools and other programming.

The MALDEF filing also criticizes the district's decision to create one position combining the director of multicultural curriculum and director of culturally relevant curriculum.

"The district's claim that 'the (plan) does not call for two separate positions' is contrary to the language and intent of the (plan)," the objection states. "The special master has informed the parties that the district will appoint two people to fill these positions."

Sylvia Campoy, a former TUSD school board member who works with the Mendoza plaintiffs, told the Tucson Weekly that before the district submitted its budget, MALDEF and the Mendoza plaintiffs submitted inquires that went unanswered. What's taking place now in front of Bury in federal court is a pattern of noncompliance with the desegregation order, she said. "I am hopeful that the court and special master will once again recognize this pattern of non-compliance and legally jolt TUSD into a compliance mode," Campoy said. "The Mendoza parties desire nothing more than for TUSD to fully comply with the desegregation order (and plan). Many community members have grown weary with this situation, but it's very important to remain engaged in this issue and demand transparency and accountability."

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