TUSD desegration funding under attack again


education_appleYou will recall that back in February there was a kerfuffle over TUSD Board member Michael Hicks testifying in support of a bill,  SB1371, to “phase out” the desegregation funding for TUSD that is part of a federal court mandate, for which TUSD is still under the supervision of a special master.

Former Blog for AZ blogger David Safier posted at The Range on The Tucson Weekly, Board Member Michael Hicks Wants to Cut TUSD Funding by $64 Million:

Usually, written comments aren’t read during committee meetings, but according to Senator Steve Farley, who sits on the committee, “Chair Lesko, in a highly unusual move, read [Hicks’] written comments from the RTS [Request to Speak] system anyway, not once, but twice, because they backed her position and undercut TUSD’s credibility for those who did not know him.”

In a Facebook post, Sen. Steve Farley wrote,

“This move on Hicks’ part amounts to a direct attack on his own superintendent, 49,000 TUSD students, 3,000 teachers, and our entire community and economy. It amounts to dereliction of duty. He must be held accountable for his destructive actions.”

Sen. Steve Farley has another Facebook post up today about the latest legislative assault on the TUSD desegregation funding:

He’s at it again. Rogue TUSD board member Michael Hicks (aka Charles) signed up in favor of the 1120 striker in House Approps this morning that would endanger $64 million annually from TUSD’s court ordered deseg budget, working against his own superintendent who will be testifying against. ‪#‎WarOnSchools‬

Screenshot from 2015-03-25 09:47:35Howard Fischer reported in the Arizona Daily Star today, Lawmakers scrutinize TUSD’s spending of desegregation funds:

A new legislative challenge mounted against school desegregation spending threatens to reduce, eliminate or delay TUSD’s use of $64 million it receives in desegregation funds, impacting student programming.

A revised version of SB 1120 (.pdf) calls not only for a forensic audit of desegregation funding before any of it can be spent, but puts school districts on the hook for the cost of the analysis.

While the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, says the proposed legislation is geared toward districts that budget more than $15 million in desegregation funds, that really only applies to Tucson Unified School District and the Phoenix Union High School District.

“There is a mounting bit of evidence that the desegregation funds are being used for things other than desegregation,” Finchem said.

But he would not provide details of the evidence, saying only that the point of writing legislation is usually a “response to bad acts.”

* * *

The plaintiffs in a desegregation suit against the district, the U.S. Department of Justice, a federal judge and the special master — a desegregation expert overseeing the district’s efforts — also get to weigh in on how desegregation funds can be used.

“I don’t have any aspect of my TUSD budget more scrutinized and reviewed by more people and more lawyers than these (desegregation) funds,” Sanchez said. “These funds are reviewed at the highest level of scrutiny I have ever seen any funds reviewed at.”

Sanchez added an external auditor already reviews the budget and results are forwarded to the auditor general.

Finchem, however, argues a forensic audit is necessary and believes it is appropriate to force districts to pay for it.

Ultimately, it’s not a pot of money for special projects,” he said. “These are taxpayer dollars. And we want to make sure that those dollars are being spent wisely, that they’re not being misappropriated. And I think that’s an obligation this body has to see to it that those dollars are spent that way.”

What this Teabagger means by “special projects” is the ethnic studies programs required by the federal court’s desegregation order. Teabaggers have been attacking TUSD ethnic studies programs for years. Former Superintendents of Public Instruction Tom Horne and John Huppenthal both used TUSD ethnic studies programs as a political football to rally the GOP crazy base, as did local yokel Sen. Jonathan “Payday” Paton. Despite their best efforts to kill TUSD ethnic studies and to demonize any students who participate in the program, the ethic studies program remains a requirement under the federal court desegregation order.

So if you can’t kill it, then try to defund it.  Which i would argue puts the state legislature in violation of the federal court’s desegregation order. How:

The [forensic audit] itself could take four to six months, and even then funds could not be spent until the House Appropriations Committee reviews it, assuming it is in session. The cost of such an analysis is unknown.

“In essence, that $64 million never gets expended,” Sanchez said of the lengthy process. “If that money never gets expended then we lose all of these services that we provide the kids at the level we provide them now.”

Legislative delays not withstanding, the district’s federal court order requires certain services be offered, otherwise TUSD is at risk of being out of compliance, and the likelihood of getting out from under the order decreases.

The audit, which would be conducted by the Arizona Auditor General, would look for evidence of criminal conduct and misuse or misappropriation of money.

In addition to reporting audit findings to the attorney general as needed, the results would be used to recommend proposed legislation to adjust desegregation funding.

Here is where this story gets interesting. The Latino plaintiffs in the desegregation case also asked for a forensic audit, but not to kill the desegregation as Teabaggers hope to do, but to ensure that desegregation was working effectively to comply with the court’s order:

The plaintiffs in TUSD’s desegregation case have previously asked for a forensic audit, most recently in the fall, saying that the district would have to “get its act together and do computations the way most good businesses do so they’re understandable and comprehendible.”

“How can the district claim to be transparent when we don’t have year-to-year comparisons, when we don’t have year-to-date encumbrances?” said Sylvia Campoy, a representative for the Latino plaintiffs in the TUSD case. “It’s a fraud for them to say they’re transparent.”

But for Campoy the motivation behind the bill is all wrong.

“We have been asking for a forensic audit, but this is not the way to accomplish it,” she said. “The mean spirit of this legislative body is coming through. They’re trying to kill critical components of education, if not public education altogether.”

Campoy added that forcing districts to foot the bill proves an insensitivity about how much money is taken from direct services to students.

“The intention is to go after public education, and TUSD is at the top of their list,” Campoy said.

“For me, the outcome of the audit won’t matter for this body of mean-spirited legislators. Our agenda is to have TUSD be accountable, responsible and serve its community and all students. The agendas are totally different.”

Maria Inés Taracena at the Tucson Weekly’s The Range adds, Last-Minute Attempt by Lawmakers to Gut TUSD’s Desegregation Funds:

The amendment is specific to any school districts that get $15 million or more in deseg funding:

A. Notwithstanding section 15‑910, Arizona Revised Statutes, a school district that budgets more than $15,000,000 for desegregation expenses in fiscal year 2016‑2017 may not spend any monies for desegregation expenses in fiscal year 2016‑2017 until the auditor general conducts a forensic audit pursuant to subsection B of this section and until the house of representatives appropriations committee reviews those audit findings pursuant to subsection C of this section.
B. The auditor general shall conduct a forensic audit of any school district that budgets more than $15,000,000 in fiscal year 2016‑2017 for desegregation expenses pursuant to section 15‑910, Arizona Revised Statutes. The audit shall examine the desegregation expenses of that school district for at least the most recent fiscal year, but not more than the three most recent fiscal years, at the discretion of the auditor general. The costs of conducting an audit pursuant to this subsection shall be deducted from the monies that the school district receives for desegregation expenses.
C. The auditor general shall submit the findings of the audit conducted pursuant to this section to the members of the house of representatives appropriations committee. After receipt of the audit findings, the house of representatives appropriations committee may take either or both of the following actions:
1. Refer any evidence of misfeasance, malfeasance, misappropriation of monies or criminal conduct that is demonstrated in the audit findings to the attorney general.
2. Recommend proposed legislation to adjust desegregation funding for that school district or other school districts, or both, as a result of the audit findings.”
Amend title to conform.

Sen. Farley pointed out that the amendment is the handy-work of the Arizona Tax Research Association, which he alleges are trying to kill public education. He also brought that up at a TUSD board meeting he attended in February to discuss another bill seeking to defund desegregation programs, SB 1371.

TUSD Superintendent H.T. Sanchez testified against that bill in early February and plans to travel to the House committee’s hearing tomorrow and testify against this new proposal.

David Safier sent me the link to the wingnut Arizona Independent where the far-right Arizona Tax Research Organization has a powerpoint presentation by Sean McCarthy. Ducey education budget, desegregation dollars raise inequity isses.

TUSD board member Michel Hicks has a conflict of interest and is failing his duty as a TUSD board member when he is actively seeking to reduce funding to TUSD based on his partisan anti-public education views. He can either resign or be recalled.