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Mark Stegeman's letter 2-20-12

Mark Stegeman's letter 2-20-12

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Published by DA Morales

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Published by: DA Morales on Feb 21, 2012
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02/21/2012

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TUSD report: February 20, 2012
To impose greater discipline on my constituent reports, my new goal is to write once a week, even if thereport is short. History however suggests that excessive brevity is unlikely to be a problem.The board’s decision to suspend the Mexican-American Studies (MAS) courses hardly ends the issue, becausewe have much work to do to create a new curriculum which will address the original goals, reach morestudents, and be less vulnerable to criticism. We should nonetheless also be able to invest more attention inmany other pressing issues, which affect more students, families, and dollars.The email which brought this report has several attachments:My Feb. 9
Star 
oped, which is a 600-word summary of where we are with MAS, why, and the roadforward.Staff-generated information on the availability of the MAS books in our high school libraries.The school site budgeting formulas for 2012-13, which were adopted by the board last week.This (6 page) letter covers eight topics:New board member.School calendar.Disposition of closed school sites.2012-2013 budget formulas.Desegregation cases.MAS books in libraries.MAS walkouts.Board leadership.As usual, this letter reflects only my personal opinions, not official board or district policy.
New board member
After a tortuous process and long hours for the board-appointed committee which advised the Pima Countysuperintendent of schools, Dr. Linda Arzoumanian, I was happy to learn that she had appointed Dr. AlexSugiyama to be our new board member. Dr. Sugiyama, like me, teaches economics in UA’s Eller School of Management. (I play no role in his supervision or evaluation.) Whether this strikes you as good news or badnews probably depends upon whether you think it is good or bad to have people who think like economistsgoverning school districts.I am sure that Dr. Sugiyama will serve the district well and that this will become obvious to the public overtime. He is smart, diplomatic, works hard, and is committed to K-12 education. (His wife is a teacher outsideTUSD and they have a child who will be entering Borton elementary school.)
 
School calendar
The district adopted the 2012-13 school calendar in January, and we clearly mishandled the issue.I have long been advocating for a creative and thorough review of the school calendar, and I am glad that thisfinally started to happen this year, though it was a rocky start. Changing long-established practices alwaysrequires extra work, and I appreciate staff’s efforts.The underlying problem with this year’s calendar process is that it was too late. Most districts adopted theircalendars months ago, but staff presented its two recommended calendar options to the TUSD board inJanuary. They both differed from the traditional calendar and were controversial. The main differencebetween the options was that one added a week-long break in October and started a week earlier, during thefirst week of August. The board asked for community input, and most of the input from the schools and froman online survey (which attracted thousands of responses) favored the earlier start. So the board chose thatone by a 5-0 vote. A significant minority preferred the later start, though, for good reasons: many had alreadymade conflicting plans for early August.I was unhappy with both options, partly because many of the local districts (e.g. Amphitheater, CatalinaFoothills, Flowing Wells, Marana) have calendars which start in the
second 
week of August
and 
have anOctober break, and neither of our options did both. I suggested a couple of compromises, including onewhich shortened the proposed October break from five days to two days (like Flowing Wells), started onMonday August 6 (like Marana), and closed schools on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving (like CatalinaFoothills); the total instructional days would have been the same. Even if those ideas had merit, however,they came too late. People were understandably reluctant to choose something unexpected at the end of theprocess. That underscores the problem of the late adoption; rushed decisions are often not the best decisions.I will try hard to ensure that this does not occur again. We should start the 2013-14 calendar process now,leaving plenty of time for community input and completing the adoption in the fall. I think staff agrees.In my opinion, a comprehensive assessment of the calendar should study what other districts are doing,around the U.S., and consider the following possibilities:Move closer to a year-round model (as Vail District now does), using breaks to provide extra timefor students who need that help..Start high school later in the morning.Eliminate early-out Wednesdays and instead provide professional development during half-days onoccasional Fridays, with a financial incentive to help ensure teacher participation. The otherhalf of the day might be used for student-teacher conferences or extra instruction for studentsneeding help, or as a teacher work day.Reduce slightly the number of instructional days and compensate by adding a few minutes to eachday. A more radical alternative would increase total instructional time beyond the minimumrequired by the state.I do not claim that these are all good ideas, but I think they should be studied, with plenty of input fromfamilies and district employees. There may be many other ideas to add to this list.
 
Disposition of closed school sites
Of the nine elementary schools which the board voted to close in 2010, we have now approved long-termleases for three of them. In chronological order:(1) The
International School of Tucson (IST)
, an independent private school offering a pre-schoolprogram and a smaller elementary program, is leasing the
Jefferson Park
site. (In this context “private”means that the school charges tuition, unlike charter schools, which are financed by the state.) After a move-in and renovation period which ends in November, the initial triple net lease rate is $61,000 annually, risingto $100,000 in two years and with a 3% minimum escalator thereafter. (The Jefferson Park site is smallerthan most of our other sites.)Some board and staff members have publicly expressed reluctance to open TUSD’s closed school sites tocompetitors (i.e., other K-12 schools). I advocated vigorously for IST, as did the Jefferson Park neighborhood, and consider the board’s eventual 5-0 vote for that lease a victory.I oppose many aspects of the charter school system in Arizona, but some charter schools are good and Idisagree with a blanket position against leasing any of our closed schools to the better charters (or privateschools).(2)
Pima Community College
is leasing the
Roberts
school site, to house several PCC units which aremoving from other sites. The initial triple net lease rate is $70,000 annually, eventually rising to $130,000with a CPI escalator.(3)Last week the Board approved a lease agreement with the
Pascua-Yaqui tribe
for the
Richey
schoolsite. Richey school had served the Old Pascua neighborhood, where many members of the tribe still live.In 2010 I supported eight of the nine closures but opposed closing Richey, because the tribe had offeredfinancial support and wanted to work with us toward a solution which would work financially andeducationally. The board however preempted that process by closing the school on a 3-2 vote.Since then, I have advocated strongly for finding a way to recreate a school at the Richey site. The new leaseagreement reserves about half of the school for district use. If all goes according to plan, then we may openTUSD’s first district-operated charter school there (but not this year). I consider this a win salvaged froma loss. The tribe is paying essentially no rent except for the promise to maintain the entire site, but I had noobjection to this given the history of the situation.The remaining six sites (Duffy, Fort Lowell, Reynolds, Rogers, Van Horne, Wrightstown) are in variousstages of planning and negotiations. Some decisions are likely soon. I am sorry that the process hasproceeded so slowly, more slowly than the Board expected, but it has been careful and the affectedneighborhoods have provided much input. I expect the final outcomes to be reasonable.

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