The last time the San Ignacio Yaqui Council ad hoc education committee heard any actual news from Tucson Unified School District was from an Arizona Daily Star report that TUSD planned to replicate its successful C.E. Rose model and turn the closed Wakefield and Richey schools into district-run charters.
This came almost a month after the committee met with TUSD governing board member Cam Jurez (See "Rallying for Richey," March 6, 2014) to discuss why parents of children in the year-old Richey Early Learning Center program were not being given registration materials for the 2014-2015 school year.
There weren't any real answers, except from Juarez saying that the presence of the Tucson Weekly made him call TUSD Superintendent H.T. Sanchez asking for some good news to share with the committee, which was formed during the closure of Richey Elementary School and sustained during the creation of an early-learning center during former Superintendent John Pedicone's administration.
During the meeting Juarez announced that he had good news for the mix of Pascua Yaqui community and school representatives, parents and members of an ad hoc committee who had previously worked with the district to form the preschool pilot project in 2012 in an effort to return a school presence two years after the district closed Richey Elementary School and shuttered the 2209 N. 15th Ave. building.
Juarez said when he saw a newspaper reporter in the parking lot waiting for that night's meeting, he called TUSD Superintendent H.T. Sanchez to get additional information he could share. The last thing he wanted was a problem to contribute to the district's bad public relations, referring to a series of Arizona Daily Star stories on the strategic planning $92,500 contract with a company with personal ties to the TUSD superintendent
So the good news then was the district was talking to the tribal council after not talking, and blaming it on miscommunication, the past administration and a better understanding of funding. Soon after, Sanchez sent out a team update that made it seem something solid is in place:
We will continue to support up to two classes of prekindergarten students (ages 3 and 4) for the 2014‐ 15 school year. We will accept DES (Department of Economic Security) childcare support from eligible parents. We will have staff available to help complete any necessary information for this service. We will also offer any student who attended Richey in 2013‐14, the TUSD employee rate for childcare ($350.00 a month) at Richey. Any new student will pay the community rate ($450 a month) if a community member, and the partner rate ($400 a month) if an intergovernmental agreement exists between TUSD and the parent’s employer.
At the conclusion of the 2014‐15 school year, my goal is to have a good agreement between the district and the tribe. This should allow for a community center and early childhood education for neighborhood children, with an emphasis on Pascua Yaqui students. Currently, we have two Pascua Yaqui children out of the 40 students attending Richey Early Learning Center. I look forward to increasing the number of children from the tribe and seeing the school assume a new, viable role in the community that surrounds it.
However, during a meeting on Monday, May 12 at the Pascua Yaqui Neighborhood Center, committee members say it feels like they are starting from the beginning and that it feels like the closure of Richey all over again—lack of communication, no answers and a parent survey that make it seem as if TUSD is only interested in creating a fee-based early childhood learning center.
TUSD administration and school board member were invited to attend, but no one showed, except committee members. They decided to take their concerns out of the committee meetings and the neighborhood center to the TUSD governing board meeting on June 10 and see if can finally get direct answers from those on the dais.
One committee member, asking not to be identified, said the opening of Richey as an early childhood learning center was a relief and seemed like TUSD finally wanted to properly serve students in its poorest neighborhood and be part of community building.
"Now they've basically told us that they can't even afford the program," the committee member said.
Richey was funded through Title I funds, because all of the 40 students who attended qualified for free or reduced lunch. Talk that Richey would be turned into a fee-based program would mean loss of the Title I funding and possibly the loss of most of its current students, who may not be able to afford a $150 to $300 monthly tuition fee.
"I think at this point, once again the community of Old Pascua is getting the short end of the stick," said the committee member, who added that TUSD officials are creating an illusion that they parents and community members are not interested in keeping Richey open.
But parents are encouraging each other to check fee-based options and believe they can have discussions with TUSD on what that means when and if they get to that point, while hoping the program is still in place in the next school year.
"They've done their very best to distort the information and give out information that is misleading," said the committee member. "I think it's their way of saying Richey can't continue, due to lack of interest and other parents wanting to send their kids to other programs. In other words, they've taken advantage of the lack of understanding of parents and community members, by forcing the closure of Richey, once again."
During the meeting on Monday, committee members and parents said the survey went out right before spring break asking if parents were interested in a fee-based program or a non-fee-based program that is half-day. Most of the parents, to their understanding, have registered for a fee-based program, despite concerns they can't afford it.
When they read about the school becoming a charter, they were baffled because they'd had no conversation with anyone from the district. But no matter, now they just want answers, exactly what they asked in March: Is TUSD going to close this early childhood education program? Making it fee-based only would be the equivalent of closing it. This is a community in poverty, so paying $300 to $400 a month isn't going to happen.
Committee members shared a concern that Sanchez has had conversations with the Pascua Yaqui tribal chairman—a chairman and tribe that has children in 12 districts. They aren't sure if Sanchez is talking to the right people, particularly those in the San Ignacio Council, a neighborhood in this urban Yaqui village off Grant and Oracle roads. If there are discussions happening right now, they are not getting communicated to this committee.
But mostly, committee members just wants Sanchez to tell them what is going on with Richey and what the 40 families there should expect for next year.