Prior to our interview with Tucson Unified School District Superintendent John Pedicone, we interviewed TUSD governing board member Mark Stegemen, who was recently voted back as president of the board. Like Pedicone, Stegeman was asked to look back on this past year. When we met, the board had just met to pick members of selection committee for the Pima County Schools Superintendent’s work to find a replacement for the late Judy Burns. At the time, Stegeman didn’t know that Superintendent Linda Arzoumanian would ask the board to meet again for a fifth member or face paying for an election:
TW: Was it a good meeting, you think? Productive? I heard there wasn’t a decision made.
MS: Each board member put one name in that would be a sure fit but Dr. Arzoumanian asked for a committee of five so there being four board members.
TW: So did you guys each to pick, put four more names in?
MS: We each put one more in so then we were supposed to choose from those four to fill the fifth spot. And that proved to be more problematic than I expected. I knew obviously we had differences but and were likely to put different kinds of candidates forward but I tend to be optimistic that we’d pull together and do something reasonable and in the end we couldn’t get three votes for anyone, in fact I don’t think we could we could get two votes for most of them and so we just sent all four names in. and The Superintendent has complete discretion so she could pick one of those names, she could decide to change the size of the committee from the five, she could go and pick someone we never even talked about but that’s her call at this point.
TW: Has the process been consistent with other school districts?
MS: Well we were pretty much following her instructions. I mean, she asked us to come up with these five names and she said explicitly it’s not my job to tell you how to do it. So I think that made since. I don’t think. I didn’t have any problem with what she was asking us to do. And then we had to figure out a way to do that which would hopefully minimize disagreement. And I think that having each board member pick one did minimize disagreement on that part. That was good, and that’s one thing I wanted. But unfortunately the five and the four didn’t exactly line up.
TW: Why couldn’t there be an eight member committee?
MS: I think that would be fine but I don’t think we felt it was our place to give her advice. Under statute it’s her decision. She made a request from us, we did our best. If she asked me, I would say, “Put all eight on there.” Or, or just pick the four. Go the other way, just pick the four that we agreed on and skip the fifth person. But as I say it’s not my place to give her advice but I think that would be fine.
TW: Do you think the letter you and Michael Hicks sent to her had an affect or offered some meaning to the discussion on this process?
MS: Oh I think the main thing that the letter did, and I liked Dr. Arzoumanian’s response, I thought she made great response to that was that she removed the requirement that one of the people be an administrator. And I felt, I can’t speak for Michael, but I felt that this is a process that’s really for the community. It’s a process where you would ideally have an election. I mean, that’s what you ought to have. And I understand why we’re not. And I really agree with that given it was going to cost almost a million dollars to have an election.
TW: The cost is crazy.
MS: It would not be crazy if there were going to be a whole two years left. But since by the time we had an election, we’d be looking at maybe nine months. I, I think it would have been hard to defend that but still it’s supposed to be for the community; it’s not really for the district. If there was an election, it wouldn’t be district employees voting.
TW: Were you concerned about legalities of John (Pedicone) being involved?
MS: Well I’m not one to; I’m not a lawyer, so I never feel qualified to speak about legal issues. But I thought if we can’t have the election, it does make sense for the board to have a role and I think that it probably made more sense to have the board have a role picking a committee than the actual board members because it does make it one step removed. And so I, conceptually that all made sense to me. But I did think that her initial request to have two of the five be district employees, especially administrative because that’s a small pool, teachers, there’s thousands of teachers so that’s not really restrictive but when she said that one has to be an administrator, when, but when you’ve got to have five spots all together, and one being administrative, that didn’t seem very representative to me. So that was the part that disturbed me the most and she came back like that, we tried to make the request in a polite way. I think we were polite, she came back and answered in a polite way and said okay. So that was, I thought, an improvement. I appreciated that. And we had to work a little bit about the rest of the process but I liked the plan. I liked the fact that four board member, four picks would be unquestioned because that was eighty percent of it. And I think everybody, as far as I know, made reasonable picks.
TW: Now it’s this final.
MS: The fifth one, it didn’t, I, I, was disappointed. I thought we’d be able to get to something and we didn’t.
TW: So what happens next?
MS: Well it’s on her and whatever she wants to do. In retrospect, I almost wish that we had drawn lots and just …
TW: Picked out of a hat or something.
MS: This sounds silly but honestly, just to keep it simpler, I wish we’d almost drawn lots and given one to the board members two picks, just at random, and, and then there wouldn’t have really been any debate.
TW: Who were your choices?
MS: I picked, I picked, my sure pick, I picked Michelle Harbour, who is a teacher at Cragin Elementary School. … She’s done larger than life things and got some awards and stuff so she seemed like a perfectly reasonable teacher to me. And, then for the at large I picked someone actually whom I didn’t meet before last night although I spoke to him on the phone, he was recommended to me by a couple of people; which was Juan Ciscomani, who is a UA administrator, on the Hispanic Chamber, he’s been on a bunch of boards. He was one of the ‘40 under 40’ for the Daily Star.
He had pretty impressive vitae. And I, I, resume’, it seemed he pulled in a lot of stakeholder groups. Because he was from the business community, he’s from the U of A; he’s been in several of the Hispanic Chamber business groups. So it seemed like he was a guy that was well respected by a lot of people. Uh, and represents in some way, you know, he’s from the Latino community. So it seemed like that made sense. I felt like it made sense that two of the five members of the committee be Latino. I’m not supportive of quotas, I’m, I don’t think that’s a way to make decisions but all things being equal, when comparing qualified candidates, I thought it would make sense that two out of the five be Latinos and that’s one reason I was pushing for him. He would have been the second one.
TW: Who was the other Latino candidate?
MS: Well there was another Latino candidate in the pool of four. For the fifth one, I believe he was the only one. I believe Steve Holmes as a sure pick, so he’s on the committee. And then I, I think, that’s one reason I wanted him but I don’t want to over-emphasize that because I genuinely, I, I, I’m not generally supportive of quotas but even leaving that aside, it seemed like that …
TW: Like he was probably a good pick?
MS: Well, I think yeah, he’s a balanced guy, a moderate guy, respected by a lot of people. One thing that Miguel raised at the meeting was that he had run in the primary in LD29 as a Republican and I wasn’t sure there was more because it was the fact that he ran or the fact that he was Republican. Or some combination of the two, but, I didn’t feel like that was …
TW: An issue?
MS: Really, not that much of an issue. I honestly never even asked him what his registration was. I just felt he was very involved in education. I mean not to say anything against the other peoples’ suggestions either. So we put all four names forward and then we’ll see what she does. I had a concern that Adelita’s suggestions for that pick was an administrator, was she did pick a central administrator, and which she is perfectly entitled to do. But I was concerned about that for the exactly same reason that I wrote that letter to Arzoumanian in the first place. Especially a central administrator who’s near the top of the, the administration…I just didn’t. I feel like she would be representing, she would be perceived to be representing central administration. And I, only for that reason I disagree with that. But Miguel’s pick was a perfectly reasonable nominee, and Mike Hicks’ pick was a reasonable nominee. So people were suggesting these other people.
TW: We’ll see how she, what she decides and what happens next.
MS: But I think we made a sincere effort, and sometimes, especially when you’ve got four people on the board, that can happen. So we made, we made a good try, and I hope she isn’t unhappy with us.
TW: Do you, do you trust this process, the rest of this process though?
MS: I’m, I believe that Dr. Arzoumanian wants to do the right thing by the process, I have no reason to believe that she’s going with another agenda, during her term, though she’s a Republican, she is not acting partisan. I don’t think anyone would say that she has. She has treated it as almost a non-partisan office and I would say that all observers of her office would agree with that. So I think, she wants to do the right thing, my concern from the beginning is that this is a process that’s vulnerable to being controlled by a small number of people … I, I, I think the board is natural because we are elected so we’re, we’re the ones the ones removed from the community. But I, I would really like to see people from outside TUSD; I really don’t think this should be run by insiders, including the board. I hope, I, I guess that’s my only concern it’s going to be driven by the broad community and the stakeholders as opposed to driven by insider interests and I would even include myself, in some sense, as an inside interest.
TW: Do you think TUSD is controlled by inside interests? “A click of insiders,” I believe, is how you guys put it in your letter.
MS: Well I think we referred to a perception...
TW: I mean is that perception a reality?
MS: I think that historically it was fair to say there was an old, old guard or people use a phrase like good old boys network … And, of course, that’s inevitable. Any organization is controlled by some group of insiders, in a sense, but I think that the feeling at TUSD was that a lot of personnel decisions were made for not exactly the right reasons because of who knew who or who was related to who and that there was, there was a self, a self- sustaining group that ran the district.
And I think the perception is still there. I think that’s less true now as far as I can see than used to be. But I think that Tucson as a community where a lot of decisions on all levels, let’s just say Pima County even, is a community where a lot of decisions are, in practice, made by a small amount of individuals who are used to making decisions driving the community this way and that way. And, I’m concerned about political culture, and let’s just call political culture, that’s driven to that extent by discussions … and I would like TUSD to develop a culture that’s very distinct from that, where that’s not what’s driving decisions. And, to give an example of that culture; when, after (Liz Fagan) announced her departure, the board got, different board members very quickly started getting calls from persons in the business community, persons connected to SALC to consider John Pedicone and, uh, I think there was clearly an attempt to drive that out there. I don’t think that’s even a very controversial statement. That did happen. So that did happen and that’s a fact. I, in the end I supported John’s, as I thought he did have strong credentials...
TW: He had what?
MS: He had strong credentials and he’d have a lot of community support and that’s an asset in itself in TUSD, which was credibility with different stakeholder groups already which was an asset for us. So I thought he brought a lot to the table so I had no problem supporting the appointment, but, and but it was not because of those phone calls. And I honestly, I wasn’t completely comfortable with that. And it created, I think, it, it saddened me, and I’m not blaming anyone, I’m not, I’m not, this is not meant as a complaint. … It left me with the perception, I mean it created a perception among people that he, his appointment had, in fact, been driven by SALC and because SALC had some members, I say some members I don’t say the whole, some members had promoted it, it was, put me in this, say, awkward position of looking like that could be true because they had been, in fact, promoting it and that was a fact and you couldn’t deny that fact. And so then when the decision went that way it almost, in some ways, made the decision harder because it looked like a decision that was driven by a group and my decision were based on going around the community and really talking to a lot of people …
TW: Like your decision could be made freely?
MS: Well I was making my decision freely but it created a perception problem … It, it, it, it in some ways almost made it a little harder to support him or raise the bar because you had to get past that perception so I didn’t, I didn’t personally feel that was helpful because it put, it made me, forced me in the position of having to really deal with some…
TW: To almost overcompensate in some ways?
MS: Almost overcompensate. And in fact, I did. I interviewed, maybe not quite that word, but I talked to other superintendents, former superintendents, persons who’d supervised him, I talked to a lot of people about John Pedicone. Not people with any connection to business, people within education and UA people too and, so I felt very comfortable where I was and it wasn’t being driven by those phone calls, it was being driven by all the conversations I had but then I was sort of stuck with the perception that it was driven by those phone calls and that was a little bit of a, unwanted burden maybe? But I’m not, I think the SALC people were obviously intentioned, obviously they care about the community, they were making a sincere recommendation, and I think, in the end, it was a good recommendation. He was a strong candidate at a time when we might have had difficulty recruiting strong candidates. .. I don’t exactly, I don’t mean to be critical but I’m just saying it added a complication where…
TW: It’s an example of why people feel that SALC welds too much influence?
MS: Well you know, and they, they did, members of SALC did push for that, that much is not a myth. All I can say is, if he had just applied, put his application in with everybody else it would’ve been a very strong application and I’m pretty confident I would have supported it for all the right reasons, because it was indeed a strong application and we probably didn’t have any similarly strong applications. So I think he got it on the merits and it’s too bad, unfortunate in a way, because of this other stuff, it looks like he got it for some other reason..
TW: So looking back, Mark on John’s first year, do you still feel he’s done a good job?
MS: Let me interject and then I’ll continue with your question. I think it’s more important at this point to look at what’s actually been happening, what he’s done and what’s he going to do… what’s relevant, what are his strengths, what are his weaknesses, as a superintendent how is he doing? That’s what matters to the community. The other stuff is a political discussion.
TW: That groups like SALC inserting their authority into, or just their voice into this because they are interested.
MS: And it’s good that they’re interested. I mean it’s very nice; it’s very nice that there’s and, I don’t want to sound critical of the SALC, I think sometimes it can be heavy handed. That’s just my opinion. But I’m appreciate, and I hope that if you write any of what I am saying, that what you write reflects this balance, I do appreciate that there’s many business people in the community, and, of course, not just SALC, and some other people, who really do want the public education system to work, to want TUSD to work and support it and they’re willing to invest time and resources in helping it work. And I believe that’s sincere and it’s a different attitude from many of the Republicans in the legislature. … I think that’s an asset for us, that we do have a lot of support in the business community and if SALC is a locust and a focus of that support, that’s a good thing, but I think, that, it’s a healthier political culture when people, when things are fought out through elections basically and I, I guess my general comment about Tucson is that too many people don’t see the election process as the critical element in governing the city. And that’s why I think that feeds into disillusionment, I think it feeds into lack of interest. The city council elections that we just had did not, considering all the circumstances surrounding the city, generate as much interest as you might expect. The Republicans couldn’t even get a candidate on the ballot … and I’m a Democrat so that’s just fine with me. I’m just saying as a statement about the culture, it shows disengagement from the election process which I don’t think is healthy. People have the idea, when the community starts getting the idea that who gets elected doesn’t matter because done somewhere else, that’s not healthy and that’s whether it’s the city: and people get disengaged. And when people get disengaged it’s a little bit of a self-fulfilling prophesy, when the elections aren’t what’s driving the outcomes then indeed it starts to be conversations in the back rooms that drive the outcomes. And I think people have this perception about the supervisors … and the city and TUSD. I think people just lump it all together and it’s not healthy. People need to believe the way you make change or the way you protect what you’ve got, whichever one you want, the way you drive the outcome is by getting into … the election process, having clear choices, informing people about those choices and making people believe that those choices matter. And that’s what’s healthy. …
TW: So going back to my question when I interrupted you before. John’s first year. You gave him a good review; do you still stand by that?
MS: Well, we didn’t give him a hundred percent. … We never took that vote for Elizabeth (Fagin) because before we awarded any particular amount of bonus, she said, “I don’t want a bonus.” So we actually never got to that step. Um, she, that was a little bit misreported, I don’t mean that, misunderstood, I don’t want to criticize, she never actually got a bonus like that, she said more or less from the beginning, “I don’t want it.” Well at the end of the year, “don’t give me a bonus because I won’t take it or I’ll give it back,” so we didn’t. Well with John, we actually did vote on bonus size, we actually did take that step and gave him a grade, it was 80-something percent but it was significantly below a hundred. I think it was something near eighty-five percent, so it was significantly below a hundred but he got most of his bonus. I think the board; we had an internal process for doing that. I think we tried to solve the issues and award the bonus and uh, he gave it back, which was good.
TW: So back to my question Mark, do you still support John Pedicone?
MS: Strongly, I supported John strongly. Oh I still support him. He has, just like all of us, just like me, just like you, I assume, stronger points and his weaker points and I think as the year has unfolded, those things have evolved in a predictable way. I think the areas where he’s been strongest are the areas where he had the most track records, where he had the most experience. For example, professional development and training of teachers and principals, it’s what he did at U of A, is train principals, what he did at Flowing Wells was known for professional development, he mentored people and brought them up and I think those parts have been among some of his strongest contributions at TUSD. I think he’s, he’s taken professional development of teachers, principals and even central administrators very seriously and we are doing better and we are on a trajectory to do much better and that is a very important part of what TUSD does and it’s a part that’s been working well and that’s one reason that I supported him strongly because I feel, based on his track record, he would do well in those areas and we really needed that. And I think that as far as I can see, up to this point, I think that’s proved to be true. I think on the operations side, we’ve had major issues this year. We’ve had major issues with the busing, did not work well this year. We’ve had major issues with information technology; we’ve had serious problems with the network this year. And some other issues. And, maybe that’s not surprising because that, that is not an area where he had as much experience or had the same track record. Not that he had a bad track record, but I don’t think he’d been really challenged in those areas. I don’t think those were the issues in Flowing Wells, or what he dealt with at U of A. I don’t think that was something he had really deal with or had much experience with so it’s not surprising those things haven’t gone as well.
So, that’s just two examples. I think he’s well connected with the community and that was expected to because that was part of his track record and was something he had done for years. And that was another reason I supported him. So I think that places I expected him to be strong have mostly, I, mostly borne out to be true, I think. Um, and even though we’ve had some problems, and continue to have some problems, um, given the choices on the table or were likely to have been on the table, I would still support him. TUSD is a very difficult job and I think we’re doing numerous things that he’s doing numerous things that in some cases make it better in the short term and in some cases make it better in the long term. Uh, I think, the school transformation process did not go as I expected and although those two schools may turn out better for it, it’s too early to pass judgment on that obviously in three years we’ll be able to look back and say or at least have a much better idea of did it help or didn’t it help. But for anyone to draw that conclusion now, one way or the other, is premature. I think there are signs that it is, it has, and it will help the schools. There are positive signs but if you look at the total systemic effect of those decisions and if I knew now, no I said that wrong, if I had known then … what I know now I probably would not have voted for that. I think that the consequences, some of the consequences, were not what I expected.]
TW: Meaning teacher morale, parents’ reaction, what were the consequences that you were not happy?
MS: I think the two main things were the processes, and of course it wasn’t quite the same at the two schools, so I’m making some comments that, and I don’t want to, I’m not going to … Right and I’m not going to, I don’t want to get into, get down to the level of, I like this one better than Rincon, or I like this one better than Palo Verde, that’s too specific, so I’m averaging my comments across the two situations that actually were not the same. But in an average sense, I was concerned, and I was concerned about this going in, actually I was concern about the process that we would use to decide which two teachers and which were released and I don’t think I’m in a position to question the regional decisions, I don’t know enough about the regional teachers, I wasn’t in the room to see what was going on but I think the way that that unfolded what not what I expected and didn’t necessarily, it was obvious that it wasn’t getting all the inputs that I expected it to get, but I’m, I’m, I want to be careful because I wasn’t in the room. I didn’t see it, but I can definitely say that whatever the reality was, the perception, there was ambiguously a perception that there were issues on how those selections were made. So at minimum you could say things should’ve been constructed better so that it would have been more, in a way that it was clearer to people that these decisions were being made in a fair and appropriate way, at a minimum. And it may indeed be true that there could have been improvements on how decisions were being made.
TW: That was one perception.
MS: Well the, the selection processes. At least the perception of that, and possibly the reality. … Well, I was very concerned from the beginning and wanted assurances from staff that this selection process, who stays and who goes, would be very thorough and careful and would get a lot of input from people with previous experience with personnel and so forth and it wasn’t obvious from the outside that this was always happening. So that was the issue, so there’s two issues I had that might have changed my view, one is how that selection process happened between who stayed and who went, and the second thing is that I had the impression, and I think I probably speak for the whole board but, of course, to be sure you need to ask them, I had the impression that teachers that were released, ideally by a good process, would not be, would not be guaranteed jobs in other schools. And the normal RIF process, as our contracts are currently set up, teachers would be more or less guaranteed jobs for which they’re qualified. And I remember asking the question why is this different, why is this different, why, how is this going to release us from the responsibility of giving these teachers job assurances? And we got some answers, saying this is a special situation outside the normal view, which was basically the answer, and based on that assurance.
TW: So were those assurances valid?
MS: Well it turned out that the teachers that were released did, of course some of them applied and were hired by other schools and some of them went outside the district but the ones that were not, wound up being assigned to other schools and if they wanted to remain in the district remained in the district and as a result, other high schools received teachers they had not recruited or even interviewed and didn’t necessarily want. I, I, I think that, I, I, well, I assumed these two things. I assumed that the selection process would be done very carefully and the teachers who were selected would not be guaranteed jobs at other high schools but then it turned out that maybe there were questions about the selection process, then again I’m not sure how many of those questions were real, how many were perceived and then the first teachers who were selected did end up getting jobs, which is good for the teachers, I don’t want to punish teachers, that’s not the point, but I don’t think it was right.
It doesn’t make sense to then put them somewhere else in the district, in school that never hired them in the first place. And that was a perverse outcome to me and so I, well I think because of the combination of those two things, I wouldn’t have voted for it had I known how it would play out. So, I, I would have done it differently and I was disappointed with that. Having said that, and it may still turn out to be true, you know, that the results are good at those two schools, we’ll have to wait and see. And so, in three years, I might say, well, actually, Palo Verde is a far better school than it was and so I’m feeling pretty comfortable with it. But right now, before we gather results, what I’m looking at is the process and what I’m looking at is what happened, what were the effects on the other high schools? As you just said it, if a lot of underlying logic is to keep the stronger teachers and release your weaker teachers, well if you’re just putting them in other high schools, the logic becomes far less compelling. So that was a, that was something that I felt without in any way dismissing the efforts going on at those two schools, which I applaud, and I think the staff is working hard and I support that. I don’t want to say anything negative about that but I wouldn’t have done it. I really don’t think I would have.
TW: No, looking back.
MS: So there aren’t many votes that I regret or would do differently in retrospect, but I think that’s one.
TW: Why were you against TUSD appealing Superintendent John Huppenthal’s (first) findings regarding Mexican American Studies?
MS: … Because it would be expensive and I wasn’t sure it would really, in the end, produce anything positive … of course, like with the transformation, it’s difficult to judge because it’s too early in the process so we don’t know. We don’t have any historical perspective yet. But I felt like, it, it was not going to produce results… in the end and it was expensive and the rationale offered that it was a way to get clarity about what the ADE wanted, what we needed to do didn’t quite make sense to me because I felt that you could get that sort of clarity, if that was indeed the rationale, then you could get that sort of clarity, and I said this during the meeting, that you could get that sort of clarity talking to the ADE, I think you know, if you want to litigate because you think a decision is wrong and you think you can overturn it, well that’s a reason to litigate. To litigate to get clarity from an administrator seems strange to me, I didn’t quite get that reason. But that’s about why I didn’t support it. And I, well, there’s a lot of to be said about that, most of which has already been said and probably too often. But I was, after the initial negative vote, I was surprised that the superintendent intervened so strongly to get the vote reversed. I was surprised but he has the right to do that, obviously, as everyone has the right to state their opinion and in the end, the board is responsible for the outcome and every board member is responsible for their own vote.
TW: Does that happen often, though, that the superintendent will give an opinion like that or it is part of a healthy process?
MS: No, abjectly that’s very rare that a superintendent will criticize the board’s vote and ask them to reverse it, you know, after the vote. So it’s a historical question and a factual question. It’s very rare, I think if I was the superintendent, which I’m never likely to be, I wouldn’t do that. But I’m not the superintendent. I was surprised. But I think in the end, the board members, if board members did not find that his argument was convincing, they didn’t have to change their vote and so the responsibility for the decision, whether you agree with it or not, the responsibility for the decision is squarely with the board. It’s the board that makes the decision, not the superintendent.
The superintendent gives advice and the board can accept it or reject it and whichever way they go, that’s their responsibility. I mean, you can’t uh, I don’t think any board member can, and I don’t think any board member has, but I don’t think any board member can blame the superintendent for making them vote a certain way, I mean, when they are responsible for their own vote and, also, the superintendent really has the right to (55:48) at any time he likes. So it’s not a question, does the superintendent have the right; it’s just a question of what’s customary.
TW: Let me interject here, Mark.
MS: That’s a tricky question. You’re hitting at these tricky questions.
TW: I’m sorry; I’m just doing my job.
MS: It is your job; it is your job so that’s um.
TW: Let me interject in terms of the thinking of the board. Before Judy Burns’ passing there was a discussion on if this is a functioning board that could still work together, still function.
MS: Let me step back and say, I support the superintendent and I don’t want nothing, there shouldn’t be any doubt about that so anything you know I, all I’m saying, whenever I say simply reflects the idea that nobody does everything perfectly and that certainly includes me, so perfection is a standard that no superintendent or board member will ever meet and that’s all my comments reflect but no one should have any doubt that I support the superintendent and I think he is doing a lot of things that are going to make the district stronger over time so don’t, don’t cast my comments in that light … despite what I say about individual things and, and everything I’ve said to you, I’ve said to other people about specific things but I definitely do support the superintendent.
TW: Do you think that this a functioning board though?
MS: Oh yeah, going back to your question. I think, I have never agreed with the term that some people have used when people say it’s dysfunctional. I think that’s too strong and I think that the people who say that are people who don’t go to the meetings and see mostly things work pretty well. Most people have reasonable dialogue, reasonable discussion, so I think this dysfunctional is a word that’s too strong, that I don’t agree with. I have never agreed with, however; I think it would be fair to say that the board is has been sufficiently divided on some issues and has been sufficiently distracted by issues of relating to personalities as opposed to policy and has not been a very effective board. So that’s what I would say, um, I wouldn’t say it’s been dysfunctional, I would say it hasn’t been very effective. The board should have at least the majority that results in a consistent vision and provides leadership at this point … this is where we want the district to be and this is the guidance we give to the staff to get there and it’s saying the same thing a year later, and a year after that and a year after that. And this board is not all the time but sometimes been in my opinion too distracted by personality issues, I think that actually affects all or has affected all top administrations in TUSD, it goes beyond the board. Too much is driven by personality issues as opposed to take the names off of it, take the names off it and say what are we doing, does it make sense or doesn’t make sense, to focus on the merits of “a” versus “b” and how it affects the schools but it is very hard in TUSD, I try this, I try to say this all the time, it doesn’t completely work, let’s have this conversation without any of the names attached because the names are not the issue, are they? The issue is what we are doing, does it make sense? It’s very hard to get the discussion at TUSD away from personality conflicts and that has been true, you asked about the board in particular, and that is, has absolutely been a problem at the board, that, that, the, the problem of getting distracted by personality issues, being sometimes uncivil to each other, which has happened, combined with the fact there are genuine disagreements with policy, which is just the nature of a body like that, I mean, that can happen but so you have that and you layer on top of that these personality issues, you get something in aggregate has not been very effective.
TW: Did the personality issues within the board exist before ethnic studies became an issue?
MS: Certainly, there were, there were, for example procurement issues have been a long running point of friction for years, ah, I’m trying to think of another one… labor issues have been long running, school closures, we have sometimes, not always, as a source of friction, some of these issues tend to replicate themselves over years so no, I think that when the board was divided on certain things and not very effective, I think that goes back in time, it’s important to say, that not many people get an idea of this, I’ve heard people say when there’s friction we couldn’t agree that the sky was blue, and that’s really not at all true. When you look at the history of votes, there’s far more agreement than disagreement and Liz and in support of Liz, in every one of her initiatives except the farms land deal by vote, that was the only major thing she wanted that she didn’t get. And with John, the board has given him every major thing he wanted except the closure of Carson but it wasn’t clear how invested the administration was so even the administration seems unequivocal about that one so at the same time that we’re saying that the board hasn’t been very effective, setting a clear and unified direction for the district and it hasn’t been effective at always maintaining a tone, I think it has provided strong support for both of the last two superintendents, not with unanimous votes most of the time, that’s too much to expect but in the end, both Fagan and Pedicone, they have got out of the board most everything they wanted to get.
So, I think it’s important to say that at the same time you can say the visions on the board and sometimes these things break out, but if you step back, the board does, has given to both our superintendents in the end, after the talk and after the this and after the that. So it can definitely get exaggerated.
TW: Are you going to run again?
MS: I haven’t decided. I think it’s more likely that I will than I won’t. But definitely have not, uh decided, it’s uh, probably it depends upon whether I feel like the district is moving forward in a positive way and whether I have contributed to that movement. And what’s interesting is that this year, although, media has dominated, the number one issue this year has been the ethnic studies issue and also transportation issues that, that the school transformation issue has been a big media issue. There’s lots of stuff below the surface where, in some ways, that this year I have been more successful in the outcomes than in previous years so I, I…there are a lot of things I wanted to happen at a lower level, that I can, either are happening or I can see prospects of them happening. Things like changing our practice of early out on Wednesday, which I have always had questions about and I’ve been saying that since I got on the board and I can now finally …
TW: Isn’t that a union/school teacher issue of planning dates and professional development?
MS: Yeah, but I’m not sure the un…I’m not sure, I think a lot of teachers aren’t happy with it either, I mean it’s not a question of not giving people professional development obviously professional development is important and how you do it and the Wednesday out model is a model that works well at some schools, it’s very specific to the school, but at a lot of schools, it doesn’t work that well and of course it creates problems for families and other issues, I, I mean this needs a balance and I’m not saying it’s all bad but it’s an issue. I think I’ve had concerns about our health insurance plans, which all sound good in the headlines but it’s actually a huge amount of money, promoted to self-insurance which we made that decision before John came on and I’m on the trust board that runs the self-insurance. We have a very good board with some very good committee members and we have strong staff and a good relationship with staff. And I think we’re going to be able to do a lot going forward this year.
TW: How much does that save the district?
MS: Well I’ll just give you a little example, we, I felt that we were paying too much for the insurance, or stop-loss insurance, a lay term for it, we were paying premiums that weren’t making any sense and I asked, with the support of the other members of the trust board, to get more quotes on that and look at some different options. And the staff did that, I think the staff agreed and they did that and so this year we’re saving something like $600,000 by paying a lower premium for that coverage and we’re probably, we might not save all that in the end because we reduced our coverage and so we’ll be paying some but over the last several years if we’d been on the plan, that would have saved money in the end … so we’re talking about saving hundreds of thousands of dollars, you know, some of it is pretty easy and painless really and the employees won’t even see it. It’s not a change in their coverage, it’s been a change in the, the burden is distributed between the district and the insurance company, it’s got nothing to do with what the employees pay, it’s just more like a contract thing and like I say it’s going to save hundreds of thousand dollars year over year and you know, it’s a lot easier than closing a school. It affects a lot of people, you know, closing a school. And that, I think, is just the tip of the iceberg of what we’re going to deal with, with our healthcare, where our, our, lots of deficiencies there. We’re going to give our employees more for their money and probably give them better health options too by, over a period of years with the changes to the plan. So that’s something I feel like I really helped where needed. That’s gratifying. I think as bad as our problems in IT are; I think … Judy and I pushed the creation of the technology oversight committee. Which was frustrating, the citizens tried to help us out in this area and it was frustrating for the first year or two because there was so much push back from staff and there was a friction that made it very ineffective. But this year, finally, I feel that, that thing is finally working and it’s working because there’s more support on the board because Michael (Hicks) came on and supported the concept … I think the change in the board helped that. I think change in the staff helped that. I think that, uh, getting some new members on the committee itself. So for several reasons I think that project, the old project, is finally starting to bear fruit. That’s satisfying. So there are various things going on that I’ve been for and this year more than in other years, I can see payoff. And that’s very satisfying … the satisfaction is not the, what people say, because, honestly, all kinds of horrible stuff falls on your head but the satisfaction really comes from seeing implemental, steady improvement in the district and, the most, and I’ve said this to people before, the most satisfying moment for me, will be the first year our enrollment goes back up, it actually increases, I think we’ll get to that year, we’ll get to it within the next five years. We are still having steep declines … but I don’t think that’s going to go on forever, I think that’ll turn and I think it’ll turn within five years.
TW: That’s good, I’m thinking that’ll be by the time, close to when my son probably graduates from TUSD. But I can’t afford private tuition.
MS: Right, you know, but that, that will happen when people start to have more confidence in what we’re doing and when more of our schools are performing like our best schools are performing and that will be a very satisfying moment and if I can see that on the horizon, I mean that would encourage me to run again. But honestly, I’m not sure because so many bricks fall on your head in this job, especially when they fall from your own party.
TW: This is a nonpartisan office, but what do mean by bricks from your own party? The Pima County Democratic Party has said they are interested in finding people to run for TUSD board.
MS: I, I think AFL-CIO is recruiting candidates to run. I, I can’t speak for them. I think they’d like to run a slate which is favorable to them and that’s certainly not going to include me. And so I think that labor will do that, um, I think that there’s a range in the Democratic party, I think there’s lots of people in the Democratic Party, including some of the leadership, that support what I’ve been doing. I think that doesn’t include Jeff Rogers, but I think his views are not shared by everyone. … so yeah it’s, it’s, it’s distressing and if this is partisan, where I was trying to win a primary would make that part of the process much more difficult. But I don’t think that is going to drive my decision. I think my decision will be based on how I feel about what the district is doing, what I’m doing on the board and if I want to run, I’ll give it my best shot and I might or might not win but I don’t think that even if some of the Democratic leaders have said some distressing things, I don’t think that’s going to affect what I do very much. And I don’t mean that disrespectfully, I just mean the practical sense. I will keep doing, the way I try to make any decision is, how is this going to affect the district five years out? That’s just how I try to, what are we doing today, is this going to make the district stronger in five years or weaker? And I try to keep that idea as my consistent compass and then the chips fall where they fall. I know there’s a lot of people who are opposed, very opposed to some of the things I’ve been doing and, some students were chasing me on campus the other day and swearing, that’s unusual, things like that don’t happen and I know a lot of people support stuff … Education issues don’t break exactly partisan lines. Some of the social issues, tax issues break partisan lines. I don’t think education issues break that way. I think there are lots of Republicans and Democrats that, in the end, want basically similar things for the public education system. They want the kids to be at grade level. They want their own kids to be there. They don’t want crazy discipline problems at schools. I think there’s a large part of the population that agrees on all that stuff. It’s not really all that partisan. And want the public system to succeed. Even many of the Republicans support the charter system, now some of them would like the public system back but some of them would support the charter system and don’t want the public system back.. That’s where a lot of the business community is. They don’t want TUSD to die. And so I, it’s sort of ironic that some of these issues become so divisive politically because I think that division really exaggerates the division in the population, which I think on education issues is less divided than many other issues such as tax issues where I think there really is a huge to the left and the right, I mean even the general population there’s a huge divide but I really, on education I think that’s exaggerated.
TW: So making a decision to run isn’t based on support from the party?
MS: Well I won’t say that completely, I, you know, I have conversations all the time and say you know, among Democrats and try to assess how much support I have and if I really thought the party’s really united and would like to drive me out, that obviously could influence my decision but that’s not the impression I get, um, I think there are parts that would but it’s definitely not all parts. … I don’t want to say it doesn’t affect it but it’s I guess that question doesn’t become relevant until I decide. The main question is, “how is the district doing? What’s my role in the district, my contribution?” That’s the big question and if the answer is yes, I have to say, “Okay, is there enough support out there to make it realistic?” And I, of course that’s relevant, I’m not saying its not relevant. My impression is that there probably is enough support. Which isn’t to say I would necessarily win but there, there probably is enough support that I, I could at least be competitive and feel I have at least a reasonable chance and you know um even if certain groups rely on you know be supportive of other people. It’s strange, I mean some of that gets exaggerated too because I’ve always, I’ve never, all this stuff that’s said, you know, I’ve never been opposed to the concept of ethnic studies, I’ve always agreed with the premise that the Mexican-American contribution and culture and viewpoint represented in the program and I do, that has to get fixed and so I think some of the opposition, some of it, not all of it, might, partly based on not really understanding how I feel about that. And same with labor, I really, you know I’ve been a Democrat all my life, I support labor and when running a school district and you’ve got contracts that have accumulated a lot of crazy provisions that cost the district and a lot of other districts in the city do not have to deal with. Really it’s a financial administrative burden. You, you have to look at your whole field of stakeholders. You can’t, when you’re on the board, you can’t be beholden to one set of stakeholders no matter who it is. You’ve got to look at everybody and we’ve been making some changes in our contracts, many of them with the agreement of the unions, I mean mostly as a result of negotiations, that I support and I think are really necessary for the long run health of the district. And then on several, you know, a couple occasions, we sort of hit a wall and it’s not something I’m comfortable with but you can’t, you can’t be beholden when you’re on the board, you cannot be beholden to one stakeholder no matter who it is or one political party. You have to, to some extent, look at the whole picture.
TW: Did you get any money from labor or the party for your campaign?
MS: I didn’t get any money. …I didn’t take any, I mean I honestly didn’t raise a lot of money so uh if I did it again, I’d be raising more, but I don’t think raising money in itself makes you beholden, I mean, that’s just my philosophy. I think people who give you money, give you money because they support you. I’m going to do what I want to do and I, I, so; I don’t think that that exactly makes you beholden. Now, I, with the AFL-CIO when I did run I signed a pledge to support the labor movement … and so AFL-CIO felt I violated the pledge, well I went back and actually read what the pledge said, and it’s, it’s pretty big and it says generally I support the collective bargaining process and I couldn’t see, I don’t want to get into that. You know I, I couldn’t see that I had explicit violations of the pledge because the language in the pledge was fairly vague and talks about supporting the collective bargaining process, supporting the labor movements, supporting the right to unionize, I support all those things. So, I guess it’s a matter of interpretation about whether I violated the pledge but I do think uh that I learned something from that. Which is, here I am paraphrasing one of the Democratic legislators, “don’t sign pledges.” Even ones that are veiled in vague language. Just don’t do it. I think that will be my policy from now on.
You cannot foresee everything that’ll come up, you can’t sign your life away to any stakeholder group or any particular single group that doesn’t cover all situations so like I say, whether I violated that would be debatable and that’s not really a debate that happened. I don’t like, I want to be working cooperatively with our groups. Some of them are easier to work with than others, I like working with TEA. I think they have a professional attitude even if they don’t agree with us on all things, even though the bargaining is difficult, you feel like the process is happening in a right way and that TEA wants to do it in a professional way, wants to get an agreement, and willing to stand by compromises on both sides and willing to have that conversation, don’t tend to walk away from the table, you know just come back and forth, back and forth, they tend to stick with it. So, I feel supportive of TEA and like the way they deal with us in our state. Some of the other groups are, and that’s our biggest bargaining group obviously, but other, different labor groups have different styles.
TW: What do you think you would do differently, looking back this past year?
MS: Oh I don’t know if I want to, I certainly would’ve... much of what’s happened has been distorted. I don’t think it was distorted in the regular media. I think the regular media has been, like the Star, the Star has been pretty accurate. I think some stuff has been misreported or exaggerated. I think, for example, the thing with John White, I think a lot of misinformation got out about that and people got the wrong impression about what really happened there. I read a transcript of the actual, what happened off the tape, I sent it around to my constituents so that people could see, I mean read, what actually transpired and I think that change people don’t understand really, and can see he wasn’t given special treatment. I can’t say that situation was handled perfectly … and I don’t, in that sense, regret his treatment but what I do regret or wish we had done differently, I think, and I’ve said this before, we, various things about that meeting that should have been handled differently. Having all those arrests, we do have a responsibility to keep enough order that lets us run our meetings in an orderly way and the city does that, the county does that, we do that too. But having said that, we should’ve handled that differently. That’s, I guess, that’s the one, in terms of board meetings, that May 3 meeting was not a good outcome.
Well there were two things. I think that we had too much police presence and, I, and I’m not blaming anyone for that because I think we more or less delegated. We said we had this crazy thing happen last time; we don’t want it to happen again. Then these various phone calls were received about crazy things that could happen and I think we told security to do what you think is necessary to prevent that from happening again and they more or less took it from there but, so I’m not blaming them. I think we were surprised. I didn’t expect to see all that stuff when we drove up. At the board meeting I was surprised at what I saw. So without putting blame on anyone, maybe the board should accept the blame. That’s fine, I don’t mind that. It was, one way or another, it turned out to be too much police presence. And then we should’ve found a way not to arrest all those people and that’s not to say you should never take people out of a room if they’re being disruptive. I don’t think we can have that policy. It happens at the city and it happens at the county and we have to have that option to hold a meeting but I think we are planning for that was, a good plan, but I think our plans were not good plans for the situation that evolved.
TW: Maybe looking back maybe if having a bigger venue would have been the best decision?
MS: Well I think at this point there’s not much in reanalyzing all the particulars of what we did but all those arrests were a bad outcome and I think we could’ve found ways to manage the situation without getting to that outcome. And I wish we’d done that. So that’s, in terms of meeting management, that’s the, the meeting I regret. But I, I mean I, I think what we did was defense-able because people were being disruptive during the meeting and were not allowing us to run the meeting but being defense-able and being the right thing is not the same thing. It wasn’t the best thing and I don’t think if we did it a — it was a learning experience for us and I don’t think we would’ve done it the same way. I wouldn’t have done it the same way. I think everyone on the board would agree with that. So, that was true. And I think I’ve said that before, I just, just like I said, nobody’s perfect and that includes me and I, we should’ve done some things differently. That’s the way it goes.
And the irony there is I’m a very strong supporter of free speech and that’s one of the complaints that the board members had sometimes was that I had let speech, I gave too much latitude and I think I gave a lot of latitude in that particular issue to both sides and people would come up, pro and con, and say some crazy things. And I was, I was giving people generally on both sides of this issue a lot of slack. … And there it wasn’t about the context, there the issue was whether we could run the meeting. Um, but in general, my general philosophy is to give people a lot of latitude, which I think that’s what you need to do.
TW: How would you characterize your relationship with Loretta Hunnicutt?
MS: Oh! She’s a blogger, just like Abie Morales is a blogger and they, it’s, it’s not, I, I don’t want to, there’s no…I’ll just make a general statement. Blogs in general, rhetoric can, it’s easier for rhetoric to become unbalanced and uncivil in a blogosphere than in mainstream media. There are few controls on it. Often no control. But it is what it is and I’ve taken a lot of hits from Morales. I don’t criticize him. He does what he does. It’s his right to do it. That’s what the First Amendment is all about. And the same applies to anyone else, whether they’re on the right or the left. … You have to believe in the market of public opinion, you want to believe, people who have accurate information and genuine insight were the people who, in the end, attract people. And that’s, that’s really I would say about any of the bloggers. But I will say one positive thing about that particular blogger. Um, which is I think that, I know you can relate to this too, I think that on the hearings the regular media did not provide much coverage, you wrote some, the Star covered one day (1:48:17) and the Republic did basically nothing as far as I know. And uh her blog did publish, did describe a lot of what was going on and provide information about what was going on at those hearings that other people were not providing. That was genuine information, regardless of what side you were on initially, she was telling people, and in some sense you were too, you were the second one. … I think that doing that is definitely a public service. Think that was a lot of information that wasn’t commonly available so I think that was, that was good. But I, I, I, I really, I generally try not to criticize people, I mean whether it’s the board members or the media. People always complain that the media eviscerates the district. No, the media is the media. You want to be a reporter, be a reporter. I mean, so, I just, I don’t think it’s very productive. It’s better to focus on things that aren’t personality, you know to say this person’s bad, this person’s bad. To say, what is being accomplished?
Yeah, when I say that there have been some, you know there are weaknesses in TUSD, it’s, and I think we’ve covered weaknesses in different level, we talked weakness on the board, there’s weakness in administration, it’s not really criticizing people. For example, I said that I was disappointed with the transformation process, I probably wouldn’t have voted for it, but I don’t mean that, that’s not a criticism of individuals. That’s just saying I think people were doing their best, I think, I don’t think that anyone misled the board deliberately. I definitely don’t think that happened, I just think that given complex problems, things don’t always go as well as liked and mistakes happen or they say sometimes a mistake is only how you manage perceptions, it’s not about a real mistake. And I think that’s just being realistic but it’s, it’s not meant as a criticism.
It’s just not; I try to stay out of it. You know, I am more optimistic about the ultimate future of the district, I think, than I’ve been since I’ve been involved with TUSD, a lot of things, oh I, oh I am definitely I am and I, I, maybe it didn’t come through before. … I mean Liz did some positive things, I think John is doing many more positive things and so, and I hope this comes through, I really hope that what you write reflects spirit of the, you know, some things are frustrating the staff, too. You know I give John Pedicone a lot of credit. We had all these issues with transportation this year, the bus system, and he said “this is unacceptable.” Not every superintendent has been willing to say that and stand up and say “we messed this up big time and that’s not good enough.” And he said the same thing about student achievement, said, “hey not good enough, not even close.” I give him huge credit for that because you have to really, you have to establish credibility, and you have to say the truth. And you have to acknowledge when what you’re doing is not good enough and that is a real breath of fresh air. I was saying some positive things and I didn’t mention that thing but I think that thing in itself is huge. I think it was great to hear him say the bus situation was unacceptable. It wasn’t acceptable; it was great to just say that. We get it. We screwed up. So that’s, I don’t know what. I just want, I just don’t want to, it’s not my goal to criticize. And I hope the tone of whatever you write, I’m sure that like two percent of this is going to be written.
TW: Well, I’m going to transcribe this and do it as a Q and A.
MS: But, but I really hope the tone is that I consistently have avoided criticizing members of the board, the superintendent and TUSD policy and when I say that some things haven’t gone the way they should it’s just reflecting the reality of what’s happened in the district and we have to be honest about and that I, I, you know everyone is trying hard. The superintendent is motivated. And nothing, I don’t want anything I said, I mean I; my policy is not personal criticism. That nothing is written that way. ’m just, my comments just reflect the realities of what’s going well and less well within the district. That’s just part of being honest about it and it’s not really being directed at any individuals. That’s really important to me.
TW: What do you think are the most important issues facing the board right now?
MS: Well, yeah, number one, there’s sort of two parts, but it’s kind of the same thing so I can kind of, is we have to improve student achievement and I mean in the broad sense, not just the AIMS score sense. And we have to change what we are doing for social promotion. That’s our key issue for me. (And then if I had a number two, which you didn’t ask for, I do think there are issues of controlling costs, controlling administrative costs. That would be number two. Can I just say one other little part on the student achievement which is we have to do the achievement gap is a very serious problem and whatever you think about how, for example the MAS program affects student achievement, it’s affecting such a tiny number of students out of our student population so we have to be far, far better with “ethnic minority” population and generally our low socio-economic population. But the other part of that is that there’s this consistent, almost subconscious, sometimes subconscious, to say, feel like we can’t, that the problems with families, the problems with parents, are all so severe that it sets a limit to what we can do. And, I hate that conversation and I think that schools like Rose, which I use a lot as an example. … We can do great things, almost all of those students, I will never say all of those students, who may never quite succeed by our measure of success. But the vast majority, regardless of socio-economic status, can achieve at a high level. I absolutely believe that and we are not serving those students, well we’re not serving most of our students actually at the level we should be. We’re not serving those students at anywhere the level we should and I think that this rhetoric which just creeps into so many conversations about how we can’t fight, the parents are the most important thing and we can’t fight it and it’s corrosive because even if it’s unconscious, it causes people to lower the bar for all these students. And like I said, I think sometimes it happens subconsciously. They’re not really thinking they’re doing that or are aware of it. It happens in conversation all the time and it just gets in your brain that we are not going to, and it’s more to do with socio-economic status than ethnic diversity … that the reason that this is true for a lot of the Latinos and African-American students, it’s not as much that they’re Latinos and African-Americans because they disproportionately from low-income households. And that’s not to say there aren’t any other issues but the prominent driver of these issues is income. You can’t pick out one thing. And family structure. And so these things are important and it’s stupid to say they aren’t important but the thing I hate is the corrosive way this gets us to lower the bar in the back of our minds. And that is horrible. I mean we just have to say, we have to hold ourselves and say we get these kids and we get them how we get them and the vast majority can achieve at a high level. And I was, I had lunch the other day with four, I guess four of our kids, who are freshmen at U of A this year who went through the International Baccalaureate program, and that program is controversial today but I’m not here to discuss those issues but I’m saying these were all Latino kids, they were all first-generation college, the first people in their family, from their families that have gone to college and they all said that this program was great just because it raised the standards and expected them to do something that people had not asked them to do, that they had no idea they could do, that for them it was a shock when they got in it was like, wow, I can’t believe we have to do all this work and then they figured out they could do it and they succeeded. And actually only one of the four, in the end, passed the IB conference end exam, which is very difficult. But regardless of that, they all felt like they got something tremendous out of the program and I, it reflects my general feeling that you can’t help kids to realize the bar they can jump over unless you set the bar high enough that you give them something to jump over. I mean, if you set the bar down there, and they’re jumping like this, they’re never even going to learn what they can do. And this is what we need to do throughout the district and this is what, this is the kind of achievement that is really satisfying. Kids are not stupid and kids know when they’re being patronized.
You know and these kids that have gone through the IB program, they knew they had done something difficult, they knew they had done something that they never thought they could do and it probably improved their work habits and everything else and they’re ready for college now and that’s very satisfying with them and there’s no substitute for that and I think we undersell kids a bit. We just, we don’t give them credit for their ability and their desire to rise to a challenge if we set the challenge in a fair way and give them the assistance to meet it. I mean there’s no point to try to set a bar too high to jump over for a kid, I mean that’s what teaching is all about.
TW: Some of the people who are pro-ethnic studies will say Mexican American Studies classes do the same as Cholla’s baccalaureate program.
MS: Right. And I’ve never, that is a positive aspect of that program, and I’ve never disputed and I’ve said that when I’ve written and whatever issues are there lie elsewhere. The, the fact that it is, has been a tremendous motivator and helped kids to achievement, that is a positive not matter what you say. I mean that; there is no disputing that. I mean, that’s, that’s, if there are issues, that’s not the issue so. That’s all, I, I mean there’s this, I mean one reason Judy was sold on the program, I, I, I think she may have even said this herself, I don’t know for sure, was that she felt it had such a positive effect, in particular, had such a positive effect on her son,
She had that personal experience and that’s very valid and I think that sold her and I, it makes sense; it makes sense and that’s real, I mean I don’t doubt the validity of that at all. So those are powerful testimonials and Judy is not the only one that feels that way so I’ve never disputed the validity of that at all. I mean, you know, I trust Judy to know what is going on with her kid ... I’m not going to second guess. I wouldn’t want to argue about that with any parent. I mean, I would trust that testimony. Um, yeah, so, is that it?
TW: Yeah Mark, it is. Thank you so much for your time, I really appreciate it.
MS: Yeah I do, I am, yeah, the only part that concerns me is I’ve really tried to be careful about not criticizing; I mean there’s been a lot of stuff flying around and I don’t want to add to it. I’ve been careful not to criticize the board members, not to criticize the superintendent and I just, you know, I, I really don’t want to break that policy. You know when I said there’s been transportation problems, that’s not aimed at anyone but it’s the reality, not personal. You know I support the superintendent and I support John strongly. He’s done a lot of positive things. He’s done lots of positive things. I mean, who is going to run TUSD perfectly? Nobody.
There’s not one person who can come in and get everything right in the first year. The fact that we say not everything’s gone is just an acknowledgment of what had to be true. I don’t mean it to be more than that and I don’t want it to come out as more than that because I really, I don’t, I don’t want to be part of that destructive conversation. And I really, really have tried very hard not to do that. I guess the only, the only, and I don’t remember what all we talked about, I guess the closest thing, the closest I would want to get to a criticism is I’m repeating here but I, I don’t exactly, it’s not a criticism really but the closest thing to a criticism is I was surprised when he intervened in that vote. I’m not saying he doesn’t have the right. He does have the right. I’m not saying … But, oh yeah, but, if I was superintendent, and God knows I’d probably, you know, I’d probably destroy the district if I was the superintendent, I mean that sort of facetiously, don’t read me with that, um, I, if I give advice, like Judy used to say, if the board makes a decision then it’s time for board members to accept the decision and not bring it back and litigate it. I mean that’s part of the responsibility of the board members. The minority, you lose a vote then it’s time to shut up. You maybe say why you voted that way but then it’s time to get behind the decision and that’s it. It’s done. It’s made. Move onto the next thing. That’s part of what they teach us about being board members and I think that’s right. It’s not like you never talk about it but you don’t want to be raising the flag on something where you’re in the minority. And I, I … feel like the same sort of applies to staff. The superintendent makes a recommendation, or whatever it is, and the board then decides to reject it or not reject it, I mean accept it or not accept it; in the vast majority of the cases it accepts it and if it doesn’t accept it after the arguments have been made, I would kind of think that’s the end of it. I kind of think it would be sort of the same for board members and I guess that’s why I was surprised. …
Actually it stops with the board, that’s it. We’re accountable for what we do. It’s just like with the school transformation. I’m saying I probably wouldn’t vote for that today but I am responsible for it. I voted for it. I’m not trying to avoid accountability for it. That comes back to the board. I knew as much about it as anyone else did at the time and I voted for it and whatever good or bad comes out of it, it is on the board. It’s not on anyone else.