TUSD to use deseg dollars to cover end of COVID funds, Downtown security cams

The Tucson Unified School District is out from under a desegregation order. Now, the district wants to use those deseg funds to continue paying for programs funded by federal coronavirus relief aid.

The Governing Board will discuss this reallocation during a special meeting on Tuesday.

State law allows the district to use deseg money to fund programs that are already in place before the desegregation order is lifted. The catch is that these programs must be directed toward African American and Latino student achievement.

This gets a little tricky.

Superintendent Gabe Trujillo wants to use deseg money, not counted against the state expenditure cap, to address learning loss during the pandemic. Students, some may remember, were left to learn remotely with their parents acting as teaching assistants as they pulled their hair out and wondered how early was too early to start drinking.

Kids fell behind. The district is making the case that the students meant to be beneficiaries of deseg funding suffered the most. So keeping coronavirus relief programs in place will help these students advance.

The reallocation of funds means that some existing programs will be cut. Some reductions are pretty straight-forward. The plan is to reduce advertising budgets for magnet schools that were used to facilitate desegregation. Fair enough. The person who’s job it was to analyze achievement data among certain populations will be paid for out of the general fund budget. Fine.

Then there’s reducing “culturally relevant pedagogy and instruction.” It’s the sort of thing that could kick up a fuss. What it means is that faculty and staff will reduce their travel to conferences on this topic. That doesn’t sound like something anyone writes folk songs to defend.

Budgets for gifted and talented programs will also be reduced under Trujillo’s plan. Again, we’re talking about travel to conferences and not classroom instruction, but people may hear “gifted programs are being cut” and start kicking up a fuss.

Under Trujillo, the district has aggressively worked to intervene when students start struggling. They don’t wait until after class to go over stuff with students. A kid struggles and it’s dealt with immediately.

The state Department of Education letter grades this year showed marked improvement for TUSD.

Two thirds of the district schools received either an A or B grade. A third of schools improved by a full letter grade. Not a single district school posted a failing grade.

It’s hard to argue with those results, but getting creative with deseg money may provoke some sensitivities.

The district will also discuss an Arizona Criminal Justice Commission youth survey underway. The survey requires written copies of the survey be presented to parents seven days before administering it. Interestingly, it’s the one survey that state law does not require parental consent for. It’s gun-and-badge-sounding stuff in a hang-em-high state, so of course parents’ permission isn’t required by law.

However, the commission won’t administer the survey to any kid whose parents say no. That’s commission policy.

Here’s something wild about the last year’s results: Alcohol and pot use is way down. 

That’s right. Voters decriminalized weed in 2020 but in 2022 just 27 percent of 12th graders said they’d used it. In 2006, that number was 43 percent. Regular use fell from 8 percent to 5 percent.

During the same period, alcohol use is way the heck down, from 78 percent of students saying they had imbibed illegally in 2006 and 45 percent admitting to it in 2022.

Students fill out these surveys under a promise of confidentiality.

Students may be less than honest today with states being busy-bodies snooping around kids’ lives and the respondents might have reason to think that somehow their responses would get back to mom and dad.

My question is that if we, as a society, understand that students should be able to openly, honestly and secretly tell the state they are drinking or using drugs, how come we insist they disclose if they are having gender identity issues? Is the Legislature saying drug use isn’t important enough for parents to know about? Or are they saying it’s better for a kid to be an alcoholic or drug addict than if they are a asking to be called by different pronoun?

If so, we’re pretty effed up.

Bond playing big in Sahuarita

Sahuarita’s Town Council seems primed for a bond program, which they’re considering for the November 2024 ballot.

Voters are up for it, according to pollster Nupoint Market Research Co.

1,985 residents were asked a series of nine options about what the bonds could buy the community.

Everything but a dog park received more support than it lost. Seriously? No to dogs?

Anyway, 70 percent or more of those asked said they would be more likely to vote for a bond package if it included a police headquarters, a multigenerational recreation center and new trail construction.

In fact, solid majorities supported new sports courts, Anamax Park field expansion, a public works maintenance building and, of course, a pistol range. The dog park tanked with 37 percent support.

I find this interesting because that kind of support for the idea of higher taxes scores big. That doesn’t happen when people are “vibing” on the idea that we’re in a recession.

The council will also get a look Monday at a possible economic development master plan.

I gotta admit, my eyes turned into glazed donuts after page two. I can’t think of one locality that turned its economy around because of an economic development master plan. Efforts along those lines can go a long way but no one gets there because the plan said follow action steps A1 to G6.

Sahuarita should position itself as a destination for high-paying jobs, building on a sense of place to leverage high-tech possibilities to supercharge economic growth as the community heads toward a population of 100,000.

They’ve even got a spiraling chart showcasing possible networks to build upon and an inventory of retail space.

However, I gotta give Sahuarita a bit of kudos for emphasizing possibilities with the U.S. Department of Defense. That’s something specific.

The town’s consultant also came up with the idea of a new Pima Community College campus. Funding aside, it’s a concrete goal to work toward. So too is a series of initiatives with the University of Arizona. The plan also seized upon the possibilities with Mexico, which has a great near and long-term future as part of a bi-national value-added chain.

But then there are items like a goal to create “a diverse pipeline of engaged civic leaders — ranging from young professionals to retirees — who support economic development in Sahuarita.”

Yeah, that would be nice to have. How does one build something like that? And do you really need a plan to say it’s important?

Not that this is a bad plan, but I can’t help thinking that the big points are nothing Jim Nintzel and I couldn’t come up with over three beers at the Shanty.

Say cheese

Security cameras may soon be watching people Downtown, if the Rio Nuevo Multipurpose Facilities District Governing Board votes to approve a deal to install them on Tuesday.

Fangs may flash over the surveillance state and I agree with some of that. Stand ready with hammers depending on who wins in November.

On the other hand, a lot of U.S. cities have closed-circuit surveillance systems. In the West, Albuquerque, Denver and Las Vegas all have them. 

The agenda item says nothing about facial recognition software, which is a problem because that technology has been lousy at recognizing individual African-Americans. The systems are programmed by white folks to differentiate among whites.

So, how it’s used will be important. 

The board will also discuss the Rio Nuevo master plan, which has basically been to pursue restaurants and entertainment to draw people downtown.

Any new plan will have to pass muster with a new board after Gov. Katie Hobbs changed up some of the membership. The holdovers from the previous board still have the majority, but new members may want to feel like they have something of a say in how things proceed.

Danny Scordato will present his plans to turn the Chase Bank building at 2 E. Congress St. into a restaurant and live music venue. I still think that place could be great for such a business.

It could be like something out of the ’40s, with big bands and cigarette cases.

Finally, the board will vote on helping the owners of Miss Saigon to enclose their patio space. 

The restaurant recently moved to a new location at 88 E. Broadway.

It’s worth pointing out here that the state law that was originally used to establish multipurpose districts was written to pave the way for what was then called the Glendale Arena so the Phoenix Coyotes would have a home. Now Rio Nuevo dollars are paying for covered patios and surveillance cameras.

The mission appears to have crept.

Dollars for classrooms 

The Amphitheater Unified School District Governing Board will review the district’s annual audit of classroom funding as a percentage of total expenditures.

Classroom funding percentages are a total red herring in Arizona because the state spends so little on K-12 education. According to the most recent U.S. Census data, Arizona ranks 48th among the states in per pupil spending. We’re like a billion a year behind Mississippi, which comes in at 46th. And the state’s $8,750 per pupil is well below the national average of $13,494.

Yes, the state has done a lot to improve school funding but so have the other states. 

So comparing the numbers among Arizona schools is like comparing heftiness among famine victims.

Still, the state requires schools shame themselves annually by conducting an audit to stress over how little money is left over for the classroom as if it’s mismanaged.

Ugh.

Howie Fischer, the grand poobah of Arizona political journalists, harps on this every year when the Arizona Auditor General’s Office releases its rundown of classroom spending. As his Capitol News Service is run by newspapers across Arizona, his stories tisk-tisking school districts are on news stands and in inboxes throughout the state.

Republicans have used “classroom percentage” as an excuse to not better fund K-12.

Look. All schools have to feed kids, put kids in classrooms, and transport students to and from school. Those costs are fixed. Districts fund classrooms with what’s left over and in Arizona that’s not much. 

The Legislature likes to say they are spending plenty but that schools are too fat with administrative bloat, even as lawmakers pass edicts micromanaging schools that must be put in place by administrators to make sure districts are in compliance with edicts.

A compromise to get more cash into classrooms passed back in the days of Gov. Jane Dee Hull, included the audit requirement. No actual crisis prompted the focus on classroom spending. It was just lawmakers failing to keep up with Arizona’s population growth looking for a scapegoat for their inaction.

Anyway, Amphi spends 51.5 percent on instruction. Shaaaame. Shaaaaame. But that doesn’t include student support and instruction support. Add those two categories and the district is up to 2/3 of funding. Well now, that’s much better.

The Sunnyside Unified School District is set to get $240,000 from a settlement between vaping company Juul and a whole s—ton of schools and local governments across the country. The e-cigarette company agreed to the deal to end litigation with more than 1,500 school districts across the country for marketing a product to kids that was addictive.

State law limits how school districts can spend money won in litigation. The money can only go to reimburse the state building renewal grant fund, pay any outstanding bonds and other debt, build or improve district buildings and replace or repair other school property.

The Sunnyside board will also discuss a potential buy-out program for paid time off, during a study session prior to the meeting.

Tiger teams await

The Flowing Wells Unified School District Governing Board will talk about how to improve student retention policies. The idea is to “provide coherence between the district’s policies and practices, with promotion/retention decisions anchored in a comprehensive evaluation of many variables and feedback from many stakeholders, including parents, teachers, and specialists.”

Chef’s kiss for the buzzwords.

Basically, they got a bunch of policies in place meant to improve student retention and now they want to create a single, central, “tiger team-able” action plan to keep quality staff on board. 

Flowing Wells High School is set to get a new roof and HVAC system that will go in over the west gym.

The $3.5 million project will be funded by the state’s building renewal fund. This is the first HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system I’ve seen in a while not provided by federal coronavirus relief funding.