Partner Benefits

Who do you have to screw to get a high-paying TUSD job?

The domestic partner of TUSD's powerful human resources director remains in a highly paid position slowly revising district's policies, even though the TUSD board spiked an attempt to keep her in a hastily created but permanent job.

Norma Jean Johnson is being paid $30.06 an hour, $62,524 annually, to revise district and TUSD governing board policies, including those on sexual harassment, student dress, discrimination, equal educational opportunity and weapons. She delivered remarks on those policies during a special meeting on Oct. 5 when the board studied but declined to take action on 30 such policies.

Johnson, 49, is technically a legal assistant, even though she is a policy adviser, according to TUSD public relations staff.

TUSD's only other legal assistant is paid $55,868 a year. Johnson is being paid far above what the city and Pima County pay law clerks with law degrees, and more than beginning lawyers who are prosecuting crimes or defending those accused of them. The city is seeking to hire a law clerk with a law degree and will pay between $34,208 and $56,443 a year. The city will pay $49,000 a year for a new assistant public defender, while the county is advertising that it will pay legal assistants $28,844 a year and new lawyers $37,481 a year. Legal assistants and paralegals with law degrees typically earn $45,000 to $50,000 a year.

Johnson started at TUSD in March 2004, nearly a year after then-Superintendent Stan Paz and the TUSD board hired Sue Wybraniec to head human resources. The former director of human resources for the sprawling Maricopa County government, Wybraniec, 53, was seen as a major upgrade from previous political-patronage appointees in human resources, including Joan Richardson and Paul Felix.

But Johnson's TUSD job--and the speed with which a permanent job was apparently designed for her--have some reconsidering their enthusiasm.

"I had hoped the school district was moving away from 'who you know, not what you know,'" said Judy Burns, now in her second term on the TUSD governing board.

Burns said she and others are upset by the appearance of favoritism. She said her opposition would be the same if Superintendent Roger Pfeuffer's wife, a longtime educator, was suddenly put in a top TUSD job.

Burns alerted colleagues to the plan to "slide" Johnson into a permanent job when Burns probed a stack of materials for job hires and the like slated for routine approval at a meeting earlier this year. Burns successfully pulled the job--policy and meaningful access program coordinator--for a separate vote that killed the new position.

Creation of that job came a time of severe budget strain at TUSD, with the current shortfall at $4 million. Pfeuffer and the governing board are contemplating laying off counselors, librarians and nurses. The board, over Burns' objection, also has signaled approval to cut principals at four schools by giving four principals two elementary schools each.

When Pfeuffer asked for teachers and other employees to work a day or more for no pay, Wybraniec told KVOA-TV that 90 percent of TUSD's costs "are tied up in personnel."

Burns said policy revision, which is what Johnson is working on, is taking too long and that the process could be simplified by analyzing the policies promulgated by the Arizona School Boards Association and tailoring them to TUSD.

"I think I could do five policies a day," Burns said. "It's been 13 months, and we only have one-fifth of the policies."

Reached at the Continental Ranch home she shares with Wybraniec, Johnson declined to comment. Ownership of the home, purchased for $225,000 in September 2003, was conveyed to Wybraniec and Johnson as trustees of the revocable trust bearing their names, according a warranty deed filed at the Pima County Recorder's Office.

At Maricopa County, which has 14,000 employees, Johnson and Wybraniec worked in separate departments. TUSD has nearly 7,700 full-time employees.

Wybraniec said Johnson searched for public and private sector jobs in Tucson before landing a temporary job last year from Jane Butler, then the head of TUSD legal services. Wybraniec said she had nothing to do with any of Johnson's jobs at TUSD.

"She has been and is fully capable of finding her own job," Wybraniec said. "I stayed out of it. I see that as a conflict. I truly have stayed out of it."

Yet conflicts arise. Butler and her interim successor have relied on Wybraniec and her staff, as have all TUSD departments and employees and vice versa. And Wybraniec and Johnson shared the microphone on numerous occasions on Oct. 5 as the governing board examined policy revisions.

Burns said she was not impressed, particularly with what she saw as a too-strict prohibition on gifts to teachers from students. She said that may erase the one bond some students have.

To Burns' comment about TUSD moving away from its historic patronage system and "who you know mentality," Wybraniec said: "I think we are moving away. People should be hired for what they can bring to the organization."

She added that she values her "professional integrity" too much to become involved in hiring and job decisions affecting her partner.

"I wouldn't sacrifice my career," Wybraniec said. "I would think her hiring was because of her knowledge, skills and abilities."

The job to overhaul policies--some nearly 20 years old--was combined with one coordinating and ensuring parents' access to TUSD information and compliance with the federal Office of Civil Rights. Wybraniec said Kelly Langford, a former teacher and longtime administrator who is TUSD's senior academic officer, oversaw the job creation and the interviews.

Johnson was in the job months before the governing board was even asked to approve the position.

"The board," Burns noted critically, "was the last part of the process."

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