by Pamela Powers Hannley
Activist and educator Kristel Foster began campaigning for a seat on the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) Governing Board not long after the board voted 4-1 to shut down the embattled Mexican American Studies (MAS) program– rather than lose $15 million over a program that had been declared illegal by the state of Arizona.
From the get-go, Foster made it clear that she was running as a "save MAS" candidate. In fact, when Foster and fellow "save MAS" candidate Ralph Ellinwood spoke at Drinking Liberally (DL) in June, the audience was twice the normal size, due to a strong showing of MAS stalwarts who came to cheer them on– including ThreeSonorans blogger Abie Morales and Tucson Weekly reporter Mari Herreras.
Unfortunately for Foster, since the August 8 Drinking Liberally kibitz fest, Morales has started attacking her for being an MAS turncoat. (He's even calling for MAS supporters to suggest possible write-in candidates.)
The special guest for the August 8 meeting was supposed to be Cam Juarez (also a "save MAS" candidate). Unfortunately, it poured down rain that night, and the DL turnout was very low. As a result, Drinking Liberally reverted to DL Classic Mode (ie, everyone sits around and endulges in free-form political discussion, with no official speaker). On that fateful night, four TUSD board candidates were present– Foster, Juarez, Betts Puttnam-Hildalgo, and incumbent Mark Stegeman.
Stegeman asked the others the $15 million question: Would they have voted to shut down MAS in order to avoid the $15 million fine from the state? Puttman-Hildalgo and Juarez said, No. They said they would have defied the state ruling and voted with board member Adeltia Grijalva to retain the program– regardless of the cost to the district. (This is the MAS true believer stance.) Foster said she would have voted with the majority to shut down MAS, hence the attack from the ThreeSonorans blog. This looks like a giant flip-flop from a long-time, in-the-trenches MAS supporter.
After the jump is her Facebook explanation. Also, the plot thickens with the question: Should a Sunnyside School District employee vote on the next superintendent of TUSD?
Here is Foster trying to soft-shoe out of the MAS controversy on Facebook. She's correct in saying that the vote was not to eliminate MAS all-together; the vote was to shut down (she says "suspend") the classes until the new and improved version is revealed. MAS has been placed under protection of the desegregation order. Meanwhile Auggie Romero– former MAS darling, now also labeled a vendido by Morales– is working on the new multicultural curriculum, which would include some form of MAS. (As an aside, how small will the MAS true believer tent get before it collapses around Morales? Demanding 100% pure ideological loyality, he is now attacking Foster, Romero, UA MAS Chair Tony Estrada, and TUSD Board members Adelita Grijalva and Miguel Cuevas.)
Personally, I applaud Foster for having the guts to say this. MAS supporters do not tolerate dissention in the ranks. They demand 100% obedience from true believers; consequently, the attacks on Foster are highly predictable.
Frankly, I wish someone had asked Puttnam-Hidalgo and Juarez how they would have explained their "No" vote to TUSD's parents and taxpayers. (In fact, if either of you are reading this post, please put your answer in the comments section.) I don't think throwing away $15 million to save a program that has served an average of 400 students per semester (out of 32,000 Latinos in TUSD) is a popular position with mainstream voters. I look forward to the new version and actually called for rebuilding MAS back in January.
Beyond MAS, there is a bigger issue regarding Foster's employment. Although her campaign website says she is employed by the University of Arizona, her LinkedIn page says she's employed by Sunnyside Unified School District. When I noticed the inconsistency between her campaign website, LinkedIn, and what I had seen on her Facebook page recently, I sent her a private e-mail asking where she currently works. She said that she has always been an employee of Sunnyside, but that she did a three-year special project at the UA, which has now ended in June. She is a progan specialist in the Language Acquisistion area.
The big question is: Is it appropriate for a TUSD board member to work for a competing school district? Sunnyside is actively (and successfully) recruiting students away from TUSD.
In the coming year, TUSD Superintendent Dr. John Pedicone's contract will come up for reveiw; the unpopular Pedicone could be given a pink slip. Should an employee of a competing school district decide who the next TUSD superintendent should be? I think not. This is a huge conflict of interest. (Of course, I think Putnam-Hildalgo also has a conflict of interest being employed by TUSD as a part time teacher, according to the Arizona Daily Star.)
Below is how Foster's resume is listed on her campaign website.
Here is Foster's UA faculty page in the College of Education. It used to have content, but now there is only a frame with no text where her biographical sketch and other information was.
Twelve candidates filed their paper work on time to run for an unpaid position on the Tucson Unified School District Governing Board. You'll note that there are no "Ds" or "Rs" by these names; the school board election is non-partisan. (Now who said that non-partisan races draw less interest?) Here are the official candidates for TUSD school board.
- Debe Campos-Fleenor, Allstate insurance agent
- Don Cotton, retired postal worker, owner of online printing business
- Robert Medler, VP of Government Affairs, Tucson Metro Chamber of Commerce
- Ralph Ellinwood, attorney
- Kristel Foster, Language Acquission Project Specialist with Sunnyside School District
- Cam Juarez, neighborhood reinvestment project coordinator
- Betts Putnam-Hidalgo, activist, parttime landscaper, parttime ESL teacher, and parttime "Outdoor Inquiry" teacher with TUSD
- Menelik Bakari, retired teacher
Conservative (and anti-MAS candidate)
- Mark Stegeman, UA professor
- Alex Sugiyama, UA Professor
- Miguel Cuevas, supervisor at Afni.