Battle For The Board

Eight candidates try to win two seats on the Amphi School Board.

By Jamie Manser

To hear Gloria Copeland kvetch late last month at a forum featuring her and most of her eight rivals for the Tucson Unified School District Governing Board, it was some kind of courageous performance on her part.

Uncomfortable with the seating arrangement that put her in the middle of a table on the Wheeler Elementary School stage, Copeland moved to take a seat next to moderator Georgia Brousseau, the Wheeler principal. Copeland announced that she was not feeling well and had been fighting a bug all week.

Feature The move became advantageous. She got better placement in the rotation to answer questions, reviewed some of the written questions and kibbitzed with Brousseau.

The announced bug didn't seem to really hinder Copeland, who answered with vigor. But at the end, she used friends and supporters to lead her down the few, small steps of the stage.

"High drama," scoffs Rosalie Lopez, one of Copeland's many challengers. "The only improvement was that she didn't get up and wander around like she does at Board meetings. But it's all contrived for self importance. She has to manipulate and set the stage, be it at Board meetings, forums or interviews."

A champion for family and friends but an embarrassment to others, Copeland has made her mark at Board meetings, where she frowns, scowls, growls, laughs, or simply walks out.

In what is the most crowded local political race, Copeland and the seat being vacated by her ally Brenda Even have attracted eight candidates in the November 3, non-partisan and at-large election.

There is no dearth of issues: Budgets and taxes. Achievement rates and drop-out. Bilingual education. District management. But it is the Board, which is challenged only by that of the Amphitheater School District as the worst collection of politicians in Tucson, that also is a focus.

It's a Board that:

  • Incessantly meddles, moving administrators from school to school against the recommendations of the superintendent or the school committees they've created and vowed to heed. In the process, the Board has snubbed parents and the staffs at Tucson High, Sahuaro High, and Santa Rita High. Although each member has done it, Copeland leads in daily meddling. She will appear at school campuses and order principals take an action she favors or reverse a policy she is against. This includes overriding a school's policy on punishment for tardiness or intervening and overturning a suspension or discipline given to an unruly student.

  • Prefers to spend tens of thousands of tax dollars ignoring state and federal law to cover up sexual harassment complaints against a top administrator, Ed Arriaga, and the resulting settlements. The Board promoted Arriaga and even brought him out of retirement to head Sahuaro High School despite strong recommendations for a permanent principal.

  • Delays ratification of employment contracts with employees, leaving in the lurch for most of the year 3,000 teachers, 1,100 food-service and white-collar workers, and the district's 500 blue-collar workers.

  • Ignores the very policies it adopts to hire and place administrators.

  • Regularly shuts out the public. This Board has regularly violated the Open Meetings Law by straying from permitted executive discussion and approving and developing motions behind closed doors. It also imposes severe limits on the public's ability to participate at meetings. While ahead of Amphi, which steadfastly refuses to allow a call to the audience, the TUSD Board's public comment period is manipulated to stifle criticism.

"If there's one theme for all of us running," says Lopez, a lawyer and 1972 Pueblo High School graduate, "it's meddling by Gloria Copeland and this Board. She has made herself a key issue."

Copeland has defended her actions. Asked if the job to assess issues at schools were that of the superintendent, Copeland said: "Well, yeah. Well, no."

Jesus Zapata, a job counselor who works at Pima County's Jackson Employment Center, is making his second run for the Board. He says it has degenerated so badly that one of his priorities is to establish a code of ethics for Board members.

Joining Lopez, Copeland, and Zapata on the November 3 ballot is Judy Burns, making her fourth run for the Board; Diane Carrillo, principal at Howell Elementary School; Celestino Fernández, sociology professor at the University of Arizona; Laurie Grana, sixth-grade teacher at Tucson Hebrew Academy; Carolyn Kemmeries, retired TUSD teacher and administrator; and Ken Kmak, purchasing administrator for the Sunnyside School District.

Carrillo and Kmak did not attend any of the three candidate forums held so far. Besides attending each of the forums, The Weekly interviewed all candidates except Fernández, who was not available.

Board members receive no salary and serve four-year terms. Winners take their seats in January. Voters don't have the opportunity to fully clean TUSD's house until 2000, when the terms for Board President Joel Tracy Ireland, James Noel Christ and Mary Belle McCorkle expire.

Copeland won her seat four years ago in a four-person race. She trailed Even by only two percentage points. After losing in 1990 and 1992, Copeland had vowed she would serve only one term. Now she says she must stay to complete projects begun in the last four years.

She further made herself the focus in the last week by claiming she had a bachelor's degree in medical technology from Midwestern University in Texas. And when the Tucson Citizen revealed last week that she attended the school for one year but received no degree, Copeland went on the offensive by claiming she was the victim of "dirty politics." She has, at various times, listed degrees from the University of North Dakota and Draughon's College in Texas. Draughon's closed in 1979. The Arizona Daily Star, which reported that varying academic background during each of Copeland's campaigns, has been silent on whether she received a degree.

Copeland, who boasts of her accessibility, has stopped returning calls from The Weekly.

Taxing and spending are issues that Copeland, a veteran community activist, will face.

Copeland, like Even, is attempting to portray herself as a fiscal conservative. The Board's involvement with the budget and its adoption is far less than that of the City Council or Board of Supervisors. Their discussion of the tax levies and rates they impose on property owners is scant.

On the stump, Copeland says she has "consistently voted against" the district's escalating budgets. But records show that she dissented only once, this election year.

In her first year, Copeland provided the budget's necessary third vote, announcing: "I'm going to vote for this budget because I need to get on with my life. You leave me in a position that I don't know what the heck I'm voting for."

Records show that Copeland missed the budget adoption vote the next year. She voted for the budget and its spending increase last year. Copeland joined Even in voting in July against TUSD's 1998-'99 budget of $330 million--a budget that actually created a decrease in property taxes. Since Copeland has been on the Board, TUSD's bite on local taxpayers has jumped 16.5 percent, from $133 million to $152 million.

Copeland also claims she's cut TUSD's desegregation budget, first ordered by the 1978 settlement of the landmark Fisher-Mendoza lawsuit against TUSD in U.S. District Court in Tucson. That fund has ballooned from less than $1 million to $42 million this year.

"The first year I was on the Board, I held the desegregation budget with two other Board members at $26 million. It has increased over the last three years. And, no, I have not voted for it and I have not voted for the budget."

Copeland's position on the desegregation fund becomes more murky and conflicting when she condemns its source as "taxation without representation." She then claims, at the forums and in interviews, that "the desegregation tax levy does not increase your taxes as much as you think. It's levied Pima County-wide."

That huge misstatement has drawn response only from Lopez:

"Do you really think that taxpayers in Green Valley, Ajo, Marana and elsewhere in Pima County would stand for that? Why would they pay taxes for TUSD? It shows that after four years, Gloria Copeland hasn't got a clue about the district's finances or how it collects tax revenue."

Taxpayers around the state assist TUSD and all school districts with state shared revenues. But Rick Lyons, the Democratic Pima County Assessor, said TUSD's desegregation levy is confined to TUSD.

"It's odd that Gloria would talk against the deseg budget," Lopez says. "The deseg budget needs an official, professional audit. Three votes is all it takes to get an audit of the desegregation budget. Gloria Copeland has been in the position to make that motion to ask for an audit, and she's never done it. Now why do you suppose that is? Because she's always ready to dip into it for her pet projects."

Kemmeries also says the public has not been given adequate information about the desegregation budget.

"I want to see more disclosure and more understanding of those budgets and how they're developed," Kemmeries said.

Carrillo, who would have to step down as a TUSD administrator if elected, pinned the budget and its problems on the Board. "The buck absolutely stops with the Board," Carrillo says.

Decisions, she says, are uneven. "One school needed a new roof and ended up getting artwork in the front worth about $18,000 to $20,000. I'm not against art, but my God, when we're watching money."

Zapata said priorities are mixed up. "The budget is not considering the schools, but other political interests. It's political ego spending. Every Board member has pet projects."

Burns has been less specific, but touts her experience working with TUSD committees and studying district budgets for 10 years. She says she has not missed a Board meeting in the same period.

Grana has avoided details about the budget and has couched her responses in terms of what works for students.

Kmak has some understanding of school finance, but is less familiar with TUSD than the other candidates. His prime interest in running developed when his son entered Sahuaro High School. Kmak was on the board of the private school his son attended until this year.

With the current Board's habit of meddling, decentralization of the 64,000-student district also has emerged as an issue. Administrators and parents increasingly want more autonomy.

Under decentralization, on-site committees would be created to make decisions concerning schools.

Lopez says Board members must realize their powers are limited by state law and exist "primarily to establish policy. There are numerous court cases and the Attorney General has opined that school board members do not have the authority to enter school grounds and begin directing the principal and the teachers," she says.

Copeland has been a holdout on the decentralization issue.

"I will not support it until I see diversity and equity at the current site councils," Copeland says.

Her rivals say Copeland fears a loss of control.

Feel-good labels dominate TUSD instructional goals and guides.

Burns says there are "no nuts and bolts" to the plans TUSD regularly touts such as its ACTion 2000 and the Fourth R.

She and Lopez agree that TUSD must stop its practice of promoting students who have not attained requisite skills.

"The dictum from the superintendent," Burns says, "is 'We will not hold students back.' "

"We need to get children to a basic competency level," Lopez says.

Bilingual education has enjoyed celebrated status in TUSD because it was held out as a national model. But what overtook California, where voters rejected bilingual education without strict limits, is expected to hit Arizona and Tucson. It's a prickly issue, primarily because of TUSD's Bilingual Department bureaucracy. Any criticism of bilingual education or its performance is spun as complete opposition.

"I don't believe it takes 12 years to learn a language," Zapata says.

Adds Kemmeries: "The research says three years is tops to move into English curriculum, depending on a variety of things, their background, previous experience and their abilities."

Lopez says she is a "bilingual-education reformist. I do support bilingual education, but the model we are currently using in TUSD needs to be revamped.

"It's a tragedy in education when we have a generation of bi-illiterate children who are dysfunctional in both idioms," Lopez says.

Copeland has said she supports bilingual education.

The TUSD Board has been particularly slow in reaching agreements with its employee groups. Pernela Jones, the president of the Tucson Education Association, was surprised and disappointed when TUSD brass declared an impasse in negotiations and called for an arbiter.

Kemmeries said she's thrilled by the new bargaining model, which she describes this way: "Both parties get into the room and talk about what they agree on. Then you set your priorities and identify what you don't agree on and look at what compromises are necessary for us to get to a package."

Zapata said teachers need to be respected and, if they are found to be effective in their job, they need to be compensated for that.

Burns said that TUSD needs to "pay better than surrounding districts to keep quality teachers."

Lopez agrees that TUSD "needs to be better than competitive. We also need to permit a stipend for teachers for classroom supplies because they end up paying for supplies out of their own pocket."


JUDY BURNS: 50, in Tucson for 28 years. Attended Oakland Community College in Michigan. TUSD parent and volunteer and a regular at TUSD Board meetings for 10 years.

DIANE CARRILLO: 57, native Tucsonan. Career teacher and administrator in TUSD. Principal at Peter Howell Elementary. Master's degree in secondary education from UA.

GLORIA COPELAND: 54, elected to the TUSD Board in 1994 after two previous, unsuccessful attempts. Community activist and TUSD parent. A Texas native, Copeland's stated educational degrees could not be verified.

CELESTINO FERNANDEZ: 49, native of Michoacan, Mexico. Ph.D from Stanford University. Professor of sociology at the University of Arizona.

LAURIE GRANA: 49, in Tucson 27 years. Sixth-grade teacher at Tucson Hebrew Academy. Master's degree in special education from UA.

CAROLYN KEMMERIES: 63, retired TUSD teacher and administrator. Former principal at University High School. In Tucson more than 40 years. Master's degree in counseling from UA.

KEN KMAK: 44, purchasing administrator for Sunnyside School District. Bachelor's degree in business administration from UA. TUSD parent.

ROSALIE LOPEZ: 44, native Tucsonan and TUSD parent. Lawyer and professor of business and education law at Pima Community College and University of Phoenix. Master's in business administration from North Texas State University and law degree from University of Houston Law Center.

JESUS ZAPATA: 54, job counselor at Jackson Employment Center. TUSD parent. Second run for TUSD Board. Attended Cochise College.

TUSD Campaign Moola

Gloria Copeland made news last week. Not because her claim to a college degree could not be confirmed. Because she filed a finance report for campaign for a second term on the Tucson Unified School District Board.

Copeland largely ignored campaign reporting laws in her last round in 1994, claiming she won a seat in the sprawling, 200,000 voter district while spending just $265.

After holding off as long as possible, Copeland finally began reporting contributions and expenditures on September 1. Still her report stretches credulity. She would have the public believe that she collected $4,090 in just 18 days last month. That's nearly $400 more for the five-week period ending September 28 than the slick, consultant-heavy campaign of Carolyn Kemmeries raised.

But Copeland did not entirely disappoint. She still disregarded election law by failing to disclose when she bagged $250 from the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees. Candidate Jesus Zapata also received the AFSCME money--on August 21.

Rosalie Lopez continued to lead the pack of nine with $20,088, including $6,190 for the period. She has spent $12,593 through September 28.

Kemmeries was next in the money hunt, with $15,623, including the $3,694 raised for the most recent reporting period. Kemmeries has spent $8,860, with $5,535.95 bled off by her consultant Jan Lesher.

Local businesses and TUSD vendors should pay attention to Kemmeries' other big-ticket item. She threw $3,210 to Fort Myers, Fla., to get campaign signs from Artype, Inc.

There are a dozen good campaign sign-makers in Tucson.

Lesher's pocketed $3,570 from her other candidate, Celestino Fernández. Relying on his wife, a professional fundraiser, Fernández had a surge for his otherwise slumping campaign. He reported a total of $11,188 in contributions through the campaign and $4,527 in expenses.

Fernández showed almost as much disdain for election law detail as Copeland. His report misstates the occupations of several donors--chief among them people at the University of Arizona. In an embarrassing entry, Fernández lists Patricia Likins as the UA president. Actually, it's Peter Likins who is the UA president and Fernández' boss. Likins and his wife each gave Fernández $25.

Fernández made no notation whether his campaign reimbursed the UA for postage and envelopes he used this spring to send material to potential supporters.

And Fernandez misreported a $100 contribution from Southwest Gas as a contribution from individuals. Corporate contributions violate the law.

Diane Carrillo reported collecting another $2,583 to bring her total to $9,258. She has spent $2,729.

Two candidates, Judy Burns and Ken Kmak, have signed agreements that they intend to raise and spend no more than $500, a limit that relieves them of filing finance statements. TW

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