TUSD free of desegregation order
Arizona Daily Star
April 25, 2008


But federal judge requires a plan to measure program effectiveness

By Rhonda Bodfield and George B. Sánchez

Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/sn/education/236011

A federal judge released Tucson's largest school district from its 30-year-old desegregation order on Thursday, even though he determined the district has failed to prove that its programs were effective in achieving racial balance.

In a 59-page order, U.S. District Judge David Bury released the Tucson Unified School District from a 1978 court mandate that ordered the district to achieve racial balance in its schools — with one significant caveat.

In large part because TUSD failed to "monitor, track, review and analyze the ongoing effectiveness" of programs resulting from the desegregation case, Bury ordered district officials to sit down with community advocates and develop a plan that actually measures crucial performance benchmarks.

"Defendant's after-the-fact gathered data and anecdotal evidence is less than persuasive regarding defendant's position that its ongoing operations maintained a non-discriminatory school system to the extent practicable for 27 years," Bury said, postulating the district didn't try to get out of the case earlier because of the millions in extra funding it ensured.

Once the order is lifted, it essentially will mean that the TUSD Governing Board will be able to run the district without running to court first to demonstrate that any changes in operations won't hurt minority populations. For years, for example, students weren't allowed to attend some neighborhood schools because of concerns of upsetting racial and ethnic balances. And the court also had to sign off if the district wanted to open or close a school. Local control will eliminate the added cost and cumbersome delays inherent in court oversight.

But in many ways little will change because the district already has taken steps toward this ruling for some time, for example, changing its enrollment policies last year to allow students to attend schools of their choice as long as there is room.

"It's a great day," declared board President Alex Rodriguez, who called the ruling "a major milestone."

"It's a historic decision and a forward-looking decision because it will allow TUSD to be in charge of TUSD's future."

Part of the district's argument in getting out from under the order was that racial demographics have changed dramatically since the administration of President Jimmy Carter. Back then, the district was 36 percent minority, and still recovering from the vestiges of active segregation efforts in the 1940s and '50s, when black students were segregated from Anglo peers and Latino students were clustered in certain schools.

Since then, the district's Anglo population has dropped from nearly 39,000 to just more than 18,000, while gaining minority students. The district this year is 70 percent minority.

The judge, however, found that TUSD "has failed to make a good-faith effort to combat the demographic changes in the district to the extent possible." Worse, he said, it exacerbated inequities because it didn't use its resources to ensure minority students had equal access.

Some areas of imbalance highlighted in the ruling:

● Faculty. Even though the district was required to address underrepresentation of minority faculty, it hasn't met that goal. In fact, the percentage of black teachers has dropped during the past 27 years. Meanwhile, although Anglo students make up one-third of the district's population, Anglo teachers make up 65 percent of the teaching staff. The district could not show any measures, not even a study, that looked at how well it was doing in hiring and retaining minority staff.

● Minority studies. The court found that the district had not thoroughly analyzed how best to utilize its ethnic-studies departments. And with eight staffers in 2004 making up the Mexican American/Raza Studies unit, "it is unimaginable" that they were capable of serving the tens of thousands of Latino students in the district, Bury wrote.

● Achievement. In 2003-04, the court noted, Anglo students outscored black students in math by 13.5 percent, in language arts by 10.5 percent and in reading by 11.4 percent. Anglo students outperformed Latino students by 11.1 percent in language arts, 12.2 percent in math and 12.5 percent in reading. The judge noted that except for a 1982 analysis, TUSD never looked at the millions of dollars it spent in conjunction with student achievement to assess how effective its programs were.

TUSD Superintendent Roger Pfeuffer commented only via a press release, saying officials were "very satisfied" with the ruling, even though they were disappointed the judge didn't find the district acted in good faith to meet the order's goals.

Other district officials were more forthcoming.

Steve Holmes, TUSD's assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, pronounced himself "surprised" at the final outcome given the judge's criticism, but said he's "ready to move forward."

Rubin Salter, an attorney for the black plaintiffs who filed the original suit that led to the desegregation order, said he was not surprised at the ruling.

"Clearly, he whacked the district over the head, but he's letting them out," he said. "The gist of it seems: 'It's time to end this thing, but before you do, I want you to address my concerns.' "

The head of the independent citizens committee charged with overseeing TUSD's desegregation policies said she was displeased with the ruling.

"I don't believe the district has been, or is in, compliance," Sylvia Campoy said. "But the judge made it clear this has gone on too long."

Governing Board member Adelita Grijalva said she'll welcome citizen input.

"We have to stay on top of things because we don't want to backslide — especially since right now, our city is sort of resegregating itself, so we have to make sure students of every color and creed have the same access to the same education."

One of the outstanding questions is what will happen to the extra money the district has been able to collect as a result of its desegregation status.

The district received nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars in desegregation funds and federal grants to pay for its civil rights programs and projects from 1990 to 2006 — about $62 million was collected last year alone through property taxes. The extra funds not only pay for the district's magnet programs, but also help fund additional teachers, for example, to shrink class sizes in struggling schools.

TUSD attorney Dick Yetwin said he expects the dollars will continue to come in. That's how it worked when he represented the Phoenix Union High School District when it got out of its desegregation order three years ago. "If something was going to occur, we would have seen it by now," he said.

But there was some cause for concern, said Phoenix Union spokesman Craig Pletenik. Desegregation money long has been in the bull's-eye for some lawmakers, who three years ago nearly passed a bill that would have limited districts' ability to increase property tax rates to raise desegregation money.

"There was some concerns the state Legislature would take a run at it," he said. Instead, the Phoenix district continues to receive about $52 million a year. "You can't cut the district off at the knees and expect the same programming and staffing."

Bury gave the TUSD 30 days to meet with the plaintiffs to discuss building more accountability into the plan that will dictate how the district will continue to work toward educational equity once it no longer has court oversight. It will have 60 days to file a revised plan and a schedule for public comment prior to final Governing Board approval.

● Contact reporter Rhonda Bodfield at 573-4118 or at rbodfield@azstarnet.com. ● Contact reporter George Sánchez at 573-4195 or at gsanchez@azstarnet.com.