Tough times for the Tucson Unified School District give voters a good look at how governing board members respond to pressure.
Pay attention now, while the heat is on, because three of the five board positions will be up for election in November.
Up for grabs are the seats held by member Judy Burns and President Alex Rodriguez, both elected in 2004, and Joel Ireland, now serving his fifth four-year term.
Ireland and Burns voted with Adelita Grijalva in January not to close four elementary schools. Rodriguez and Bruce Burke voted to close them.
Days later, Ireland proposed that the board revisit the issue. On Feb. 12, he joined Rodriguez and Burke in voting to begin the school closure process.
By the same vote count – the three men vs. the two women – the board OK’d slashing librarian and counselor positions, to create mostly half-time librarians or counselors, not both.
But this week, Ireland asked that this issue also be revisited, citing “unintended consequences.” He was backed by Burns and Grijalva, so these cuts will be addressed again.
An irritated Rodriguez, to his credit, told fellow board members that if they didn’t like the recommended cuts, they should propose other cuts of equal or greater savings.
Despite all their wobbling about, board members are going to have to slash an estimated $15 million to $20 million from the budget.
The question is how to do so.
Cuts, closures anger community
Superintendent Roger Pfeuffer recommended the school closures and various other cuts, all of which have prompted a furor in the community and probably will result in more students leaving TUSD.
Pfeuffer had announced his retirement long before this budget crisis peaked, but he has worked to resolve it before his departure.
He is to be replaced July 1 by newly chosen Superintendent Elizabeth Celania-Fagen, now of Des Moines, Iowa. (She, too, was the result of a 3-2 board vote, with Burke and Burns dissenting.)
Some board members clearly are responding to public pressure, but they do so without offering feasible alternatives for how to balance the budget.
Ultimately, something has to give. None of it will be pretty. Indeed, most of it will be extremely painful for students, their families and their schools, as well as for the district.
But TUSD voters elect governing board members to make the tough decisions necessary in any urban school district.
Those with new ideas, step up
Those members who cannot do the job should step aside – or, at the very least, refrain from seeking re-election.
Likewise, community members who have led the opposition to budget cuts, those who profess to have better ideas, should seek election to the governing board to put their words into action.
TUSD will be experiencing a major sea change over the next several years – and not only because of the new superintendent.
The district faces an end to federally ordered desegregation, a virtually unfunded state mandate for a new English-language learning program and changing state and federal requirements for public schools, to name only a few of the challenges.
But we hope the district will do more than simply overcome these obstacles.
We look forward to a new era in TUSD, with creative problem-solving, collaborative leadership and community support all leading to improved academic progress for our youths.
The key, of course, is solid leadership by a strong superintendent and an insightful, thoughtful, collaborative governing board.
But the latter depends entirely on you, the voter, and the choices made in November.
Watch closely. And think hard.