N4T Investigators: Bickering board - KVOA | KVOA.com | Tucson, Arizona

N4T Investigators: Bickering board

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"OK, call the meeting to order. "

That was Michael Hicks, the president of the Tucson Unified School District Governing Board at the start of the board's meeting last week.

His call followed a lot of recent disorder behind the scenes.

Hicks told the News 4 Tucson Investigators, "We all need to put on our big, big adult pants and put away our childish . . . I mean it's like we're a bunch of third-graders."

But Hicks and another board member, Mark Stegeman, recently sent several emails to district administration expressing their displeasure about two incidents involving the former Schools Superintendent, H.T. Sanchez.

Hicks and Stegeman, along with Rachael Sedgwick, comprise the board majority that wanted Sanchez out. He resigned in February after a separation agreement was reached. The emails from Hicks and Stegeman ask why Sanchez spoke at two graduation ceremonies last month: one at Mary Meredith School, the other at Centennial Hall for University High School.

The emails sent by Hicks and Stegeman also show that they were bothered by Sanchez' signature appearing on the diplomas bestowed last month upon all graduates of TUSD high schools.

Adelita Grijalva and Kristel Foster make up the board minority that wanted Sanchez to stay. They're angry that Hicks and Stegeman have spent time on what they call "trivial matters" having nothing to do with education.

Grijalva said, "The fact that some of this stuff is happening behind the scenes, outside of the public's view, it should be a big concern for all of us. I think that I think that this board majority is a little power hungry right now."

We asked Stegeman, "Why does it bother you so much about Sanchez speaking at these graduations and having his name on the diploma?" He said, "The real problem is that the board never had a chance to weigh in, we never had that discussion. That central never told us that this was happening."

Stegemen and Hicks acknowledge that Sanchez did not violate his separation agreement because it states he can return to TUSD property, as he did at the Mary Meredith graduation, with permission of the board or its designee, and Interim Supt. Gabriel Trujillo approved it. 

Stegeman said, "I  think my opinion would have been that after all the controversy and the release, that that was not a good choice of graduation speaker."

However, University High School and Mary Meredith School wanted Sanchez to speak at their graduations and invited him long ago, when he was still the superintendent. And Sanchez paid his own way to get here from his Texas home. 

Grijalva said, "I do think it's trivial and the fact that they're obsessing over something that has already happened. And our legal counsel has advised the board that it is not a violation of his separation agreement." 
Regarding the diplomas, Sanchez' signature was approved by an administrator when Sanchez was still superintendent, because, according to emails sent by the administration, any delay in ordering could result in rush orders, which would have cost more money. Taxpayers money.

The News 4 Tucson Investigators also obtained an email sent from Assistant Supt. Abel Morado to Trujillo on May 30, in which Morado wrote: "There was never any intention to delve into political issues surrounding the Governing Board's decision to seek new District leadership. We simply needed to give high schools direction regarding diploma ordering."

Meanwhile, almost four months after Sanchez left, board members say hard feelings remain between the majority and minority. In fact, they say they hardly talk to each other.

Stegeman said, "It's not just a perception, it's a problem." 

Grijalva said, "I do think the community needs to reach out to individual members and tell them to put politics aside and start focusing together, as a group, to get items through."

Added Hicks, "I would like to see the communication with all the school board members be much more improved. Including myself."

The board is considering taking a retreat together to improve communications. They could vote on it as soon as Tuesday, during the next board meeting. Based on their current relationships, you might think there is no reason for any of them to vote against it.

If you have a story you'd like us to investigate, email us at investigators@kvoa.com or call our tip line at 520-955-4444.

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