Scrambled Eggheads

TUSD School Board Transfers Two Dozen Administrators And Wrestles With A $300 Million Budget.

By Chris Limberis

IT CERTAINLY WAS an agenda for success:
Send notices to all 200 administrators in the Tucson Unified School District informing them Friday before a Tuesday meeting--during summer break--that they could be transferred.

Hold a secret executive session that delays the start of your regular meeting by more than an hour. Time is needed to carve up the pie out of public view.

Get a report on how your magnet schools are failing to achieve the goal of attracting minorities.

Currents Get figures to monkey with a reading program that is made controversial by the district's own bungling.

Examine portions of your $300 million budget at an hour so late that only staff, by requirement, and a few distrustful others watch.

And make sure you schedule the meeting for the sardine can of a hearing room at "1010"--district headquarters--rather than at one of the many school auditoriums.

But that's business as usual for the county's largest school district.

Let's get to it.

Many of the 200 principals, assistant principals and others who received the transfer notices awaited their fates in the jammed the lobby of the Morrow Education Center, which comfortably fits about 40 people. For many it was a false alarm. The governing board, which many thought should be renamed the board of micromanagers, made moves on only 24 people.

The notice--or threat--was the brainchild of Gloria Copeland, who--after promising voters she would serve only one term on the board--is now seeking re-election. It was a typical TUSD election-year shakedown.

One longtime TUSD teacher and veteran principal described the 11th-hour notices with two words: "It stinks."

While the board seemed to show considerable restraint, there were some big names, as well as mystery.

After the board doled out eight jobs, The Rev. Joel T. Ireland, who is currently serving as Board president, stood to announce he would "absent myself" on the vote for an assistant principal at Catalina High School, which he fought so hard to close just five years ago.

The Rev, not unlike his colleagues, failed to state why he was abstaining.

The shroud was lifted when Superintendent George Garcia read the recommendation: Jeff Ireland, the Rev's brother. No problem. Copeland, whose son works at Catalina High, ran the show for that vote and Jeff Ireland was approved 4-0. The Rev's son, by the way, sits as the board's non-voting student member.

The Rev, who did not publicly acknowledge the potential conflict of interest, bounded back to the dais to vote on two of brother Jeff's new colleagues.

Pima County Supervisor Raul Grijalva, a Democrat, handed out a lot of pork in his 12 years on the school board, but he was astounded at the brash appointment of Ireland's brother.

Said Grijalva: "Unheard of."

Serious dissent began when the board moved Paul Hatch, an assistant principal at Tucson High, to a similar job at Catalina. Board Member Mary Belle McCorkle complained, giving the public just a taste of the meddling that went on when the board was locked away in that protracted executive session.

"This was not recommended by the administration. This is a sudden switch," said McCorkle, herself a former administrator.

She said Hatch's transfer broke up a "team that functioned well at Tucson High."

Board member James Noel Christ, who closed his eyes and appeared to be dozing during parts of the meeting, got into the act.

McCorkle said transferring Rachel Rulmyr, an assistant principal at Santa Rita High School, to Cholla High School also broke up an effective team.

"I think we should add that it seems to me that it's also a case of clear, crystal-clear cut case of micro-management," added Christ, an English teacher at Sunnyside High School.

The Rev responded by saying that one of his "concerns as a board member is to make sure we have quality people in all our schools."

Christ and McCorkle, who made clear that her votes did not signify her evaluation of the people being transferred, were much less vociferous when it came to two other key appointments.

The Rev's majority--Copeland and Brenda Even--also installed Joan Richardson as human resources director. (She had been the acting director.) The same majority also named Paul Felix, a longtime TUSD political operative and close ally of The Rev, as permanent assistant director of human resources.

Christ merely abstained on the human resources votes, his objections tempered by the fact that Felix worked hard for Christ's re-election in 1996, while his wife, Annette Felix, a TUSD librarian, served as Christ's campaign treasurer.

Board members were not startled earlier to learn that the marque part of the district's 20-year-old desegregation plan, magnet schools, was falling terribly short.

The report, the first in eight years by the Independent Citizens Committee, said the minority students that the magnet schools were designed to attract are not participating as much as Anglos. Nor, the report said, are they making academic achievement at the desegregation schools.

One hope to turn the district's execrable record on Mexican-American student achievement and retention--a proposed Mexican-American Studies Program with curriculum, counselors, mentors, tutors and beefed-up attendance monitoring--was not even discussed when the board moved into budget discussions.

Christ left after the transfer votes and missed that entire budget session. But hey, what's $300 million?

Budget talks were punctuated by Even's detailed questions, as well as Copeland's pursuit of such things as trucks for facilities management staff.

McCorkle, generally supportive of Mexican-American studies, pulled the biggest surprise when she called for money to be budgeted for an Asian-American Studies Program. When Asian representatives spoke at a meeting three months ago, McCorkle proudly announced that she had Asian grandchildren.

"This is a particular interest of mine," she said while requesting the budget last week.

Jesus Zapata, a second-time candidate for the TUSD board and a member of a committee that worked hard to devise a detailed recommendation for Mexican-American studies, was stunned and angry.

"I can't believe it," Zapata said after the meeting. "We worked for a year on our proposal and now this comes out of the blue."

McCorkle apparently soothed Zapata the next day on the issue of Asian-American studies.

"What she was talking about is already being done but she just wants it down on paper," Zapata said. "It will be through the multi-cultural program at Tucson High and Rincon High.

Left dangling are Hispanic students, who make up 42 percent of the district enrollment. Rosalie Lopez, who also is running for one of the two TUSD board seats open this year, has been pushing for a Mexican-American Studies program and filed suit against TUSD last year in federal court alleging discrimination. Zapata said a board decision on implementation of Mexican-American studies has been put off again until next month.

Copeland's support for it now will be seen as nothing more than election-year grandstanding, Zapata said. TW

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