by Jim Nintzel
I was critical last week of TUSD for not anticipating that a large crowd would want to weigh in on the future of Mexican-American Studies and moving such a controversial meeting to a larger venue, such as one of the many auditoriums that TUSD has at its high schools. People feel disenfranchised—justifiably, in my opinion—when they're not allowed in the meeting room and are expected to listen to the discussion out in the lobby or on the sidewalk via loudspeakers.
After last week's meeting was disrupted by protesting students, TUSD officials announced that they would move the meeting to Catalina High School this Thursday, May 5. Now they're backtracking and moving it back to Tuesday night at 1010 E. 10th St. I still think the small meeting room at district headquarters will be a lousy place for a meeting of such importance.
TUSD Board President Mark Stegeman explains the thinking behind the decision:
I know that concerns have been expressed about our choice of venue, both last Tuesday and for this Tuesday.
I have encouraged staff for several months to consider a larger venue for meetings on controversial topics. Staff has resisted a bit, on cost and logistical grounds, and I have not pushed the point.
(I have also pushed, for more than year, for our meetings to live-streamed on video, or at least recorded on video and posted later. This would provide a better public record, especially given the frequency of visual presentations at meetings. This idea has been slow to gain traction, and we are concerned about minimizing the expense, but I expect it to happen sometime this year.)
I was concerned about the level of security precautions in advance of Tuesday's meeting and a case could be made that we should have done more; but staff has pointed out, I think correctly, that no level of precautions that we were likely to take would have prevented what happened. The seizure of the dais was well-planned and executed in less than one minute.
We originally rescheduled for Catalina HS not because we thought that it would improve the security situation but simply to accommodate a larger audience. Subsequent analysis of the security situation, presented in detail during the last public meeting of the agenda committee, led staff to conclude that providing "adequate" security at CHS would have been quite expensive, requiring the hiring of many TPD officers, and even then it was easy to visualize situations that would be hard to control and could lead to a melee involving many persons. I guess that you too can imagine situations which could become very hard to manage, in that setting.
For this reason, we decided to return to our usual meeting place, which holds 140+ persons in the main board room. Staff made a convincing argument that security is much more manageable in that setting, and less expensive. We plan to put loudspeakers outside, as I think was reported in the Star, to allow a larger group to hear what is happening (without having to go online to hear the livestream). Ms. Burns dissented in the agenda committee, preferring to meet at CHS, but I fully support the decision to stay at 1010.
All persons who had signed up for the audience call, last Tuesday, will be called by the Board office and invited to return to speak this Tuesday.
I have asked staff to search for an alternative venue, for use in the future, which would have more seating capacity and also allow adequate security measures, when necessary. This option, once developed, would be something which we could "pull of the shelf" in cases where we expect high public participation. It will take some time and research to develop that option, however.