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Superintendent: TUSD will keep doing ‘wonderful things’

District chief makes pledge, but discusses tough budget realities

TUSD Superintendent Elizabeth Celania-Fagen talks to parents and teachers about the budget for the coming school year on Thursday at Rincon/University High Schools.

TUSD Superintendent Elizabeth Celania-Fagen talks to parents and teachers about the budget for the coming school year on Thursday at Rincon/University High Schools.

When Elizabeth Celania-Fagen took over as superintendent of Tucson Unified School District in July, she probably didn’t expect to worry that her first budget would be shorted $20 million to $45 million by the state.

She had hoped that deep cuts just before she took the job would be the end of it, Fagen told an audience of about 220 at a “Parent-to-Parent” meeting at Rincon/University High Schools on Thursday night.

“I’m the mother of a 3 1/2-year-old who will be going to kindergarten next year and I want it to be a full-day kindergarten,” she said. “I want her school to have fine arts and wellness . . . and interscholastics when she’s old enough.”

But for 2010, it doesn’t look good, Fagen said at the start of the two-hour event, which consisted mainly of her responding nonstop to questions.

Still, she promised that TUSD would not lose sight of the “wonderful things” it is doing and said central administration cuts would be done at a higher percentage than cuts to schools.

Questions from the audience, written on cards and delivered to the auditorium stage, ranged from what would happen to the International Baccalaureate program at Cholla High Magnet School if many of its relatively new teachers were not rehired to why TUSD didn’t close schools last year to save money.

There were questions about a four-day school week, saving fine arts, summer school, schools without principals and contracting services including transportation and food preparation.

Dustin Nevels, 15, a freshman at Catalina Magnet High School who wore a T-shirt that said “Catalina Trojans Marching Pride 2008,” said he came to the meeting to show his concern for the band. “The school site council is considering cutting it,” he said.

Fagen couldn’t answer questions about some specific programs. She said site councils had until the end of the month to send in suggestions for what they want to keep at their schools next year, based on a point system linked to the number of students the schools would have.

But she said closing schools wouldn’t save as much as some might think, and that a four-day school week wouldn’t be good for parents or the community.

She said that while schools not having a principal was unusual, “I’m totally open to sites being creative” as long as they do not make suggestions that are contrary to district policy.

For example, a school that might opt not to have a librarian next year would have to find a way to keep the library accessible to students, she said.

As for Cholla’s International Baccalaureate program, “It’s in its infancy and it’s a very good program,” Fagen said. “Its teachers (some of whom received pink slips earlier this month) have had serious training. We would not put teachers in that position if they were not qualified.”

Catalina freshman Rebecca Kopec, 14, said she would take the advice of Tucson Unified School Supporters leader Ann-Eve Pedersen, who spoke at the end of the event, and write Gov. Jan Brewer.

“The governor should not be listening to what adults have to say. She should listen to what students say about losing out in this whole thing,” Kopec said.

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