An Open Letter to the Tucson Metro Chamber
I recently read your [Chamber President Mike Varney’s] memo stating that it was a dark day when Tucson Unified made the strategic decision to change directions and release their past superintendent. Contrary to your position of unequivocal support for the status quo, I found the following day to be bright, sunny and full of promise. May I explain why, in terms of simple business performance?
First of all, I am a customer of TUSD. Unlike many of the people speaking for consistency and no change, I have kids in TUSD; one of my twin girls goes to Sabino High and my other goes to Sahuaro High. My son recently graduated from University High.
Rather than speak from afar I speak from personal TUSD experience. I have experienced the results of a dysfunctional discipline policy when my daughter was beaten and jumped repeatedly by a bully. I have experienced the lack of adequate classroom spending shown by Sahuaro High not having enough textbooks so the students must study from cell phone pictures of textbook pages.
I have experienced the lack of follow-through on a 504 plan for my daughter, resulting in her falling further and further behind. And I have listened to our teachers complain how the TUSD administration has stolen from them by not paying the 301/123 funds that they were rightly due.
As a customer of the TUSD product, they have failed me and my kids.
Those that have expressed disagreement with the TUSD status quo been called crazy, liars or racists, if not all three.
Just to set the record straight I am not crazy. I partnered with Jim Click and Cody Ritchie, both generous donors to TUSD, to help facilitate positive change.
I am not a liar either. My statements about TUSD performance are backed by the Arizona Auditor General and are not political spin striving to control a $400M budget.
And I am also not a racist. My three adopted kids, all minorities, would be shocked to hear the racial smears said about me, their mother and others that want TUSD improved.
Finally, to be perfectly clear, my wife and I aren’t trying to crush public schools in favor of a private alternative. Instead, the reason our kids go to TUSD is my wife is a public-school advocate after obtaining her Master’s Degree in Education. My wife walks the walk on public education.
The Metro Chamber should well understand that operational entities are graded on performance. Let’s assume that TUSD is in the business of educating our children. No politics, no power grabbing, no spin. Simply the business of educating our kids. So how has TUSD performed under Superintendent Sanchez?
Classroom spending was down under Sanchez. (F)
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Since 2013 and Superintendent Sanchez’s arrival, TUSD has spent less than 50% of funds on classroom spending. Last year classroom spending was 48.8%, though in the ten years prior to Sanchez arriving the average classroom spending was 53.6%. This difference of nearly 5% in classroom spending equates to $21.7M taken from our kids and the teachers each year.
Administration costs were up. (F)
We have all heard that 1010, the headquarters for TUSD, is a bloated bureaucracy. The job of leadership is to run a lean, mean performing machine. The Arizona Auditor General’s report released March 2017 states that TUSD spends $41.5M in administration costs which on a per student basis is up 5.5% since 2013. Compared to peer districts TUSD spends 36% more on administration (equaling 907 people vs 567 administrators in peer districts). This admin overspending equates to $11M that should be spent in the classroom. Overspending in administration is a prime example of a failing company.
Student performance is less than peer districts (D)
TUSD students pass the AZMerit Math and English tests at a 28% rate. Our performance is 60% of similar-sized peer districts. Additionally, TUSD students pass at half the rate of Vail and below scores of Amphi and Flowing Wells. TUSD pushes kids out of the system by lowering performance standards which increases graduation rates. This does not serve our kids well.
Enrollment continued to decline under Sanchez. (D)
During and since the November election, we have heard that enrollment had turned the corner and was increasing for the first time in years. Per the Auditor General, TUSD lost 570 students in the last year and TUSD’s own internal records recognize a loss greater than 300+ students. If we put on our Metro Chamber business hats we see that TUSD enrollment fell by 2700 under Superintendent Sanchez while admin costs increased by 5.5%. That is poor management in any company, and in any school district.
Other results were mixed at best
- TUSD teacher turnover is 40% greater than peer districts. Prior to the Sanchez administration, teacher turnover was equal to our peer districts. This creates classroom inconsistency for our kids.
- The graduation rate is 86% vs 84% for peer districts. This is in the ballpark and ok but based on student assessments they are not as prepared for life as other districts.
- There have been many discipline issues during the past year and NO clear policy exists to fairly and legally address those issues.
- Teachers were disgruntled over 301 and 123 funds that were not distributed. Financials seemed to show the funds balanced the TUSD books which is more than problematic.
One may say TUSD’s poor results are due to the poverty rate within the District. However, the other school districts in Tucson have similar rates and the poverty rate in Tucson has not greatly changed in the last 15 years. One may try to confuse the election results where the consumers of TUSD voted overwhelmingly for a new direction. And one may also lament the accompanying resignation of a CFO that could not find the teacher’s 301/123 dollars. These are all distractions from the facts and attempts to provide excuses for the poor results of TUSD under Sanchez.
The misinformation campaign also stated that if leadership changes were made Sanchez would sue TUSD for millions of dollars. But strangely that didn’t happen. Sanchez was making $500K per year with 15 months left on his contract, a potential value of $625K. So why do you think that he resigned with a $200K payout if there wasn’t some sort of cause or significant performance issue on the table? Things needed to change at TUSD for more reasons than poor operational performance.
So as business people it should be obvious to us all why a leadership change was needed at TUSD. Performance was lacking, dollars have been misspent and our students were suffering. Rather than exceeding as a school district the focus of Superintendent Sanchez was on retaining the political status quo at all costs.
If TUSD was your company, changes would be made. Why should our kids not receive the benefit of the same attention? Having school books at Sahuaro would be a great start.
Also published on Medium.