Did the TUSD Board Come To Bury Sanchez Or To Praise Him? (Answer: C, None Of the Above)

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At the second TUSD board meeting in as many weeks, the board punted on the topic of keeping or firing Superintendent Sanchez. Last week, on Feb. 14, the action item was removed from the board's agenda. On Tuesday, Feb. 21, it was the meeting's sole agenda item. After an executive session which ran hours longer than scheduled, the board members walked into the standing-room-only meeting room, listened to members of the audience speak out for and against Sanchez, then told the audience the item had been tabled. See y'all next week!

None of us regular folks know exactly why a vote on Sanchez's future was delayed. The decision was made in executive session, and the board members are supposed to keep those sessions confidential. So the next step is anyone's guess. Sanchez may yet be fired; he may be allowed to remain with conditions; or the board may simply vote against the call to get rid of him and be done with it. I have a feeling the board doesn't know much more about the outcome than the rest of us.

So, nothing happened. But I observed something and drew a conclusion which may or may not be accurate. What I observed was, there's not a whole lot of passionate community support for the "Fire Sanchez" movement. There are probably a significant number of people in the community who are dissatisfied with his performance as superintendent, people who wouldn't be unhappy to see him go, but if the meeting is any indication, the core group of Sanchez haters, the people with fire in their bellies, is reasonably small.

Full disclosure: I think Sanchez should stick around at least until his contract runs out in 2018, so that may color my subjective, anecdotal observations. I claim no scientific rigor here. That being said, I watched carefully, and this is what I observed. If I'm wrong, I'm sure others will let me know.

When the executive session ended, the board members entered the meeting room one by one over the course of a few minutes. Before they were all assembled, Sanchez walked in and sat down. Something like half of the people in the 100+ member crowd greeted him with a long, loud standing ovation. It may have been pre-arranged, I don't know. But in a room filled with a mixture of community members, staff members who were there as part of their job, reporters and curious onlookers, when half the room stands, that's a serious show of support, pre-arrangement or no.

By my count, 12 people spoke during the call to the audience, 10 of whom sent emails asking to speak before the meeting. Again by my count, eight spoke in favor of Sanchez and four spoke against—it would have been five against, but one person who requested a speaking spot didn't attend. The speakers were applauded when each of them finished. The applause for the pro-Sanchez speakers was significantly louder than for those speaking against him. I stood to see the number of people who clapped for each speaker. More than half the room applauded the pro-Sanchez speakers. A far smaller number—a dozen to twenty people, I estimate—applauded the people who spoke against Sanchez.

The call to the audience was closed before everyone had a chance to speak, which made sense since it was already approaching 9pm and the board hadn't begun its public discussion. However, board member Kristel Foster informed the audience that of the 48 people who weren't given a chance to speak, 44 planned to speak in favor of keeping Sanchez. No other board member spoke up to contradict her.

A reality check here. Anyone can pack a room and create the appearance of support for a position, and some of that may have been going on with the pro-Sanchez faction. But the people who have spoken long and loud about wanting to get rid of Sanchez could have done the same thing. If there were a large group of people who are passionate about getting rid of Sanchez, it shouldn't have been hard to get lots of them to attend. People are on the streets protesting Trump by the hundreds, sometimes by the thousands, in Tucson. How hard would it have been to get 100 people, or even 50 people, to come voice their passionate dislike of Sanchez at a well publicized public meeting? My feeling is, it shouldn't have been hard if those people were out there. But their numbers at the meeting were small compared to the pro-Sanchez crowd. And if Foster's speaker count is accurate, the disproportion was mirrored in the number of people who requested to speak—a total of 52 people who signed up to speak in support of Sanchez and 9 who signed up to speak against him.

A series of anonymous letters have been published beginning in 2015 expressing the writers' strenuous objections to Sanchez and the three board members who supported him until one was voted out in November. The most recent letter, the 48th, said it is from "Whistleblowers– Comprised of a Large Group of Extremely Concerned TUSD Administrators, Teachers, Retired Administrators and Parents, Grandparents." I wonder, where were members of that "large group" Tuesday night? Teachers and administrators who are part of the group can say they're worried about retribution if they showed up. Fair enough. But what about all the "Retired Administrators and Parents, Grandparents"? They didn't present anything close to a show of strength Tuesday night.

I support people's right to express their views anonymously. It's part of a great American tradition dating back to the Founders of this nation. But when a series of anonymous letters claims to express the opinions of a large number of people, yet few of them show up for a meeting addressing their most important concern, it makes me wonder how large that group is. If it's actually a small group, that doesn't make the concerns any less valid, even though I tend to disagree with them. Right and wrong aren't determined by a show of hands. But if the group is smaller than it presents itself to be, that puts its claim to represent a "large group of extremely concerned" people into doubt.

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