No Peace in the Valley

The battle over a high school in the Tanque Verde school district rages on.

Sherrylyn Young was a youthful gynecologist in 1988 when neighborhood activists asked her to run uphill against Republican Pima County Supervisor Reg Morrison.

Pleasant and unpretentious, Young, a Democrat, made an impressive showing for a novice by losing to the big-hearted, if bumbling, Morrison by just six points in a Republican stronghold.

Young's political bug rose from remission in 2000 as she and others in the Tanque Verde Valley battled a proposal for a high school that officials of the Tanque Verde Unified School District stupidly planned for a plot of horse lots located within the jealous Tucson Unified School District.

Young rode that wave to victory for the Tanque Verde school board, grabbing a stunning 42 percent of the vote in a seven-way race for three of the board's five seats.

Propped up by an ally--TUSD's fat legal budget--Young and the others successfully blocked the Tanque Verde district from plopping the school on the northwest corner of East Speedway Boulevard and Tanque Verde Loop--a diagonal shot from her ramshackle property on Rancho del Jefe Loop.

Still, there is no peace in the Tanque Verde Valley.

Some of Young's key supporters in 2000, angry over her insistence to build Tanque Verde's proposed new high school at the north end of the district, are now lining up to give her the boot. They are seeking signatures from 1,016 of the district's registered voters by Aug. 19 to force a recall election.

It's not just that they don't want the high school on a chunk of land off the Catalina Highway; they don't want a high school and its expenses, period, at a time when Tanque Verde, with fewer than 2,000 students in its elementary schools and a single junior high, is slipping into deficit.

"I helped put her in," Arlene Essig admitted Saturday while working a recall table set up in the shade of Agua Caliente Park.

Donna DeHaan said she is disgusted by Tanque Verde's politics and policies. She strongly favors the current solution for the 635 high schoolers in Tanque Verde to attend TUSD's Sabino High School, and to be eligible to apply for TUSD's academic showpiece, University High.

"Four of my children went to Sabino and they did just fine," DeHaan said.

But what about the fact that they have no say--at least in terms of their vote--with the TUSD board?

"I didn't need one," DeHaan said.

DeHaan and others, including Jason Aryeh, were further encouraged by comments TUSD Board President Joel Ireland made to them in January. While marketing Sabino to Tanque Verde parents, Ireland said TUSD would accommodate them with an advanced academic program at Sabino--a University High-type school within a school. University High operates on the Rincon High School campus.

Aryeh and his wife moved to Tucson in November from northern New Mexico for his wife's health. They scouted property and school districts carefully, with emphasis on Tanque Verde and Catalina Foothills--where debate over a high school two decades ago was enough to cost some board members their seats. Aryeh knows he has a lot of time, 13 years, before the Aryeh's daughter will be off to high school.

Sabino, he said, offers everything the Tanque Verde students need. And like DeHaan, Aryeh is not fearful of not having a voice in TUSD elections.

He praises Sabino Principal Susan Preimesberger, whom he calls a "lovely woman," for "starting an advanced placement French class for seven Tanque Verde students. How much more responsive can you be?"

Tanque Verde parents have sufficient voice, he said, on the Sabino site council and on the school's parents association.

For TUSD, it's about money. Sabino's enrollment took a dive when the Vail School District opened Cienega High School last fall. Siphoning off another 450 to 600 students would have devastating results for Sabino and cash-starved TUSD.

TUSD charges $4,300 per Tanque Verde student enrolled in Sabino or University. That leaves Tanque Verde with $700 of the $5,000 it receives for each student from the state. TUSD is increasing the cost to $4,900, but Aryeh and others say with declining high-school age enrollment, Tanque Verde's tentative high school would open to a deficit of roughly $775,000, robbing the district of necessary money for K-9 programs and forcing layoffs within the small district (with just more than 100 faculty members). State school construction officials are considering stripping away the $13 million necessary for the land purchase and construction.

TUSD opposition to Tanque Verde's high school--wherever it is built--is official. The district has lobbied legislators and beseeched Tanque Verde officials and taxpayers.

That makes it all the bigger soap opera. Young's husband since Oct. 18, 2002, is Lyle Aldridge, a lawyer and former cop who has done a considerable amount of contract legal work for TUSD. He is handling the defense of TUSD in the sexual harassment suit filed by Carolyn Sebastian and his firm and has defended TUSD on some federal desegregation matters. And his firm, Gabroy Rollman and Bosse, was hired to investigate a petty matter at Tucson High that targeted former principal Cecilia Mendoza. She later won a $120,000 settlement from TUSD.

Despite his TUSD clients, Aldridge is fighting for his new wife, too. In a three-page letter on April 25, he threatened to sue Mike Bellinfante, a recall organizer, for statements Bellinfante made on the recall petition.

Aldridge did not return a call. In an e-mail to The Weekly, Young made it clear that she's not budging.

"I ran for the school board with the platform that I would make objective information available to the public and then have a public vote on whether to move ahead with the high school," Young said. Voters in that non-binding election supported the high school, 60 percent to 40 percent.

Young concedes that site selection has been the "bane of this project. There is very little vacant property in Tanque Verde."

After three tries, the site still is being contested, and Young said the opposition, with lobbying and lawsuits, has cost the district $75,000.

"I would much prefer to be putting this money into the classrooms," she said.

"I believe I have the support of the community and am representing the majority of voters," Young said. "I have no problem with this position because study after study has shown that the high school is completely feasible both economically and educationally."

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