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Tucson Unified debates going ahead with tech override vote

Citizen Staff Writer



The Tucson Unified School District board Tuesday pondered the wisdom of seeking a capital override election, possibly in the area of $9 million, to update its aging technological system.

There was no question among board members that the system needs revamping.

Fifty-five percent of district computers are more than five years old and Internet speed at elementary and middle schools is more than three times slower than on most home computers, said Brian MacMaster, chief technology officer.

But board member Bruce Burke said the district needed to study the community attitude about an override and make sure the override presentation was convincing.

TUSD, by 51 percent to 49 percent of the vote, lost an override election in November that sought to decrease class size in primary grades, give teachers more money and enlarge an arts program linked to improving academic achievement.

Some board members wondered if technology, although it also affects children’s education, could compare to the class size and teacher pay issues.

Board clerk Mark Stegeman said the override proposal is completely “switching gears from last year” and could “potentially send a signal to the public that we are not confident in what we were doing” and are “fishing.”

“Obviously that’s not the thinking up here (among board members), but the public could see it that way,” he said.

And when is the “optimal timing?” he asked.

Board member Miguel Cuevas, elected last year along with Stegeman (and Burns, who won re-election) said “this is a new board and a new superintendent.”

Improving the district’s technology has been a pivotal goal of Superintendent Elizabeth Celania-Fagen since she got to TUSD on July 1.

She said not having an override this year would mean two more years with inadequate technology. “It’s not up to what we need for the students and its not enough for central office to do their jobs,” she said.

Cuevas, a University of Arizona student who attended TUSD schools as a youth, said “it’s ridiculous for students to be using the same computers that I was using in the sixth and seventh grades.

“I understand it’s hard times,” . . . “but it’s a return on an investment and we have to be the leaders in terms of technology. That is the area we’re headed.”

Fagen said technology improvements are often requested as she makes her rounds of the more than 100 schools in TUSD.

While MacMaster said he wanted to take his technology override plan to several district committees before he revealed the amount, he thought it should be about a third of last year’s nearly $28 million override.

Board President Judy Burns said the district was ahead of its time when it went out for a bond and override election in 1989, which included technology.

“We started out a long time ago and did a good job,” she said, adding other districts across the nation were looking to TUSD as a model. “But now the districts that started later than us have newer equipment,” she said.

MacMaster told board members that newer equipment and more and faster access to the Internet would bring education into the 21st century and save money for the district and time for employees.

Purchasing, asset management, human resources and payroll could be self-service, he said.

In other action, the board unanimously and without comment accepted the resignation of Chief Operations Officer Rudy Flores.

Flores was technology assistant director during a time when a state Attorney General’s Office investigation alleged TUSD purchasing employees rigged bids and violated conflict-of-interest laws.

The resignation, effective March 13, is part of a negotiated pact with Flores, said TUSD spokeswoman Chyrl Hill Lander.

Flores made $102,000 annually. Fagen said the district would seek his replacement soon.

Tucson Unified debates going ahead with tech override vote

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