TUSD asks court OK to end deseg case
Jan. 18, 2005
But requests permission to reopen it if funds cut
By Sarah Garrecht Gassen

TUSD has asked the federal court to close its federal desegregation settlement case, as long as the school district can reopen the case if the Legislature tries to cut the district's desegregation funding.

The Tucson Unified School District filed its motion for "unitary status" - a legal term that describes school districts that no longer maintain a "dual" system for white and minority students - in response to U.S. District Judge David C. Bury's August order that the district assess its progress in desegregation and see what work remains.
The deadline set by Bury was Monday, but the courts and school district were closed for Martin Luther King Day. TUSD paperwork was filed Friday.
Under existing state law, TUSD would keep almost $60 million in state money to pay for desegregation efforts, such as reducing class size at some schools. TUSD is trying to protect that money by asking the judge, should he close the court case, to allow the district to reopen the case if legislators try to curtail funding.
Desegregation funding has come under attack during the past several legislative sessions.
Superintendent Roger Pfeuffer said TUSD has made progress with the help of the desegregation funding and that the district needs it to keep moving forward.
"We can't create a lot of new programs; it has to go to the kind of things we're doing now," Pfeuffer said. "I think we've got a more serious critic in the public than we do in the court, and I think that's good for us."
The plaintiffs, through the attorneys who represent classes of Mexican-American and black students, now have a chance to respond formally to TUSD's position and, should he choose to, the judge could set an evidentiary hearing or ask for public comment through a hearing.
In a memorandum outlining the history of the case and what's been done over the years, TUSD states that it has met the goals in areas such as attendance boundaries, magnet schools and deciding where to assign black faculty members.
Rubin Salter, attorney for the black plaintiffs, outlined his broad objections in a letter to TUSD last Wednesday. Salter said TUSD has not met the goals agreed to in the 1978 stipulation of settlement between the district and plaintiffs.
TUSD has fallen short in nine categories, Salter said, such as educational achievements, unequal access to Advanced Placement classes and reducing the number of minority students who drop out of school or are suspended.
The attorney representing the Hispanic plaintiff class, through the national Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, stated in a letter last Tuesday that he did not have enough information about many of the requirements to determine if the goal had been met.
People at two public hearings TUSD held in the fall brought up the gap between the achievement scores of white and minority students in the district, as measured by AIMS and other standardized test scores.
But TUSD's position is that's outside the scope of the 1978 settlement, which requires equal access to curriculum and requires that the tests used to measure students not discriminate against particular students - something TUSD contends has been achieved, according to the court filing.
"In 1978 we weren't talking about achievement gaps, we were talking about equal access, that kids needed to have equal access to the curriculum regardless of race," Pfeuffer said. "Since 1978 that whole conversation has changed from equal opportunity to having equal results.
"That's a higher standard and we are committed to that standard, but with very few exceptions I don't know of a large urban school district that's been able to close the gap," he said.
● Contact Sarah Garrecht Gassen at 573-4117 or sgassen@azstarnet.com.