Dear supporters and correspondents,
The Star has extensively covered, through a news story and editorial, the board’s 3-2 vote on November 14 to ask the Human Resources Dept. to review the pay grade of the Director of Staff Services. This is currently the only TUSD employee, other than the superintendent, who reports solely and directly to the board.
The news story and editorial both cast the vote as retaliation for the employee’s old harassment complaint against Rachael Sedgwick. Because the complaint was amicably settled, months ago, I did not anticipate the interpretation as retaliation. That was obviously a misjudgment; providing more information, earlier, could have helped to forestall that interpretation. I suggested the salary review because of TUSD’s unexpectedly difficult budget situation and longstanding questions about the pay grade of that position. Other administrative positions face similar questions, and a superintendent-initiated review recently reduced the pay grade of a senior position within his purview.
On Sunday the Star published a response from me, which provides more details. I have attached the published oped.
I appreciate that the Star allowed me to respond, but I was surprised to see that the editors deleted many sentences from my submission, affecting its tone and substance (without notifying me). They removed positive statements about TUSD’s potential future and its reform effort. Then, ironically, they removed criticism of the Star’s tendency to ignore the reform effort and TUSD's major policy issues. Is the newspaper, which finds plenty of space to attack the board repeatedly, so short of space or unsure of its ground that it must censor responses?
Discussing leadership's efforts to address TUSD's big policy and budget issues, whether or not the newspaper agrees with specific proposals, would do more to help the district and its students than continually focusing on personality conflicts and viewing every issue through that lens.
Thanks for your interest in TUSD. The rest of this note contains the oped as originally submitted. The portions that the Star chose not to print are in red.
Sarah Gassen (11/19) criticizes the TUSD board’s recent 3-2 vote to request its Human Resources Department to review the pay grade of the Director of Staff Services. This is currently the only employee (aside from the superintendent) who reports solely and directly to the board. She portrays this action as vindictive.
This ignores the context of the vote.
The new board and superintendent have recently eliminated five senior administrative positions and reduced the salaries of several others. None of those changes has touched the board office, which is apart from the superintendent and solely the board's responsibility. The board's action is a first step toward checking the expense of that office. Salary reviews are a standard procedure; a superintendent-initiated review led to one of the recent salary reductions.
The board's action is warranted because it is unusual for a Director-level position to have only two subordinates. (The position's salary of $79,000 also exceeds the maximum on the teachers' pay scale.) I expect the board to respect the judgment of the HR department.
Gassen, while ignoring the recent administrative reductions, portrays this action as retaliatory, because the affected Director filed a complaint against one board member earlier this year. That complaint was resolved amicably months ago, long before we learned that TUSD lost about 1,100 students year-over-year and must cut millions of dollars mid-year. The board cannot expect massive cuts from the rest of the administration, while refusing to contemplate an internal review that many in TUSD consider long overdue.
The huge budget shortfall implies much more to come. The board and superintendent agree that deep cuts should come from administrative positions rather than instruction. Scores or perhaps hundreds of positions face scrutiny, including the lower-ranked positions within the board office. The process will be painful, though everyone in leadership will work to minimize the pain and allocate it fairly.
Ignoring this larger context, Gassen spends two paragraphs extolling the work of the Director of Staff Services. Such position-by-position praise for TUSD’s administrators could fill countless pages. Yet such isolated analysis ignores the acute aggregate budget problem. The cold choice between cutting instruction and cutting administration means that even the meritorious will feel pain, sometimes through increased responsibilities.
By electing Rachael Sedgwick, a fresh candidate with a reform agenda, Tucson acknowledged TUSD’s need for big changes. The question now is not whether the new board will go too far, but whether it is willing to go far enough.
Sedgwick and I proposed in April that TUSD increase its instructional spending to 50% (still far below the 58.3% average of its six large peer Arizona districts), with further increases in subsequent years. This resolution could not gain a third vote. We have likewise failed in other attempts to trim unnecessary non-instructional spending. Yet the new board has shown courage and made progress in some areas. Dr. Trujillo's appointment has, in itself, led to some significant improvements.
The Star's editorial page has, meanwhile, largely ignored these reform efforts and the hard budget and policy choices confronting TUSD. Its occasional forays into TUSD affairs focus on personalities and real or exaggerated internal conflicts. Here is news: most of the community hardly cares about the personalities on the board. They care about its decisions and how those decisions help or hurt its schools.
The Star could have better used the same editorial space, weeks ago, to discuss the bond and override measures that four local districts put to the voters. Instead it remained conspicuously silent. It is apparently easier to spot one bottle among the acres of educational issues, and throw a rock at it.