TUSD deseg argument: $1B tax waste?
Arizona Daily Star
Oct. 31, 2007

Latinos' lawyer calls district to task for saying it achieved goals by 1983

By George B. Sánchez

Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/209130

Here’s a link to the MALDEF argument regarding TUSD and deseg: http://www.azstarnet.com/pdf/071030maldef.pdf

TUSD owes taxpayers an explanation for collecting nearly $1 billion over the past two decades now that it maintains in court filings that the goals of its decades-old desegregation order were met in the first five years, according to an attorney representing Hispanic families in the lawsuit.

If the Tucson Unified School District believes it had complied with the terms of the desegregation order five years after it went into effect in 1978 and disputes any more obligations, "surely it would be hard-pressed to defend its imposition of the surtax to generate desegregation funds," wrote Cynthia Valenzuela, a Los Angeles-based attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Along with local attorney Rubin Salter, Valenzuela in September opposed TUSD's report, which argued that the district met the terms of the original desegregation settlement years ago. Separate court motions, filed last Wednesday, also argue that TUSD has not met the good-faith terms of maintaining desegregated schools.

Dozens of pages by all the attorneys involved have been filed in response to an August order by U.S. District Judge David Bury, who has stated that he is eager to close the federal case and return control of TUSD to local authorities. Bury noted he "may be more anxious than" TUSD to end the case because of the district's potential loss of state funding.

Through busing, equally distributing non-Anglo teachers and staffers, and special programs such as magnet schools, TUSD has argued in court filings that it has ended any vestiges of segregation. It also has argued that due to Tucson's shifting demographics, it has done everything within its power to ensure ethnically balanced schools.

Valenzuela wrote that citing the demographic shift is an argument made after the fact. If it had been a concern, she wrote, then at some point over the past two decades, TUSD could have requested a change in the original desegregation settlement to reflect that. The district did not, she wrote, quoting a previous statement from Judge Bury: "Instead, in 1983, the state Legislature enacted legislation which generated funding availability for districts incurring costs pursuant to court-ordered desegregation. This opened the door for TUSD to obtain millions of dollars in local tax revenue."

Dick Yetwin, TUSD's attorney on the desegregation case, would not comment directly on the accusation.

"It's trying to narrow into a single question a very, very large undertaking," Yetwin said. "Those monies were basically spent on teachers and reducing class sizes, which costs a lot of money," he said.

About 600 teachers' salaries are paid for by desegregation funds, Yetwin said.

Twenty-four TUSD schools have prescribed ethnic balances under the desegregation order, Valenzuela argued. Seventeen of those schools currently fail to meet the standards. While they may have attained their balance in 1983, she argued, the inability to do so now is an argument against any good-faith claims by TUSD.

"Moreover, of the 17 schools that fail to meet the standards, 14 are magnet schools," Valenzuela wrote. "This is significant, because the district has complete control over the admissions process in magnet schools. Demographics plays absolutely no part in this process, and the district should be taking advantage of the opportunity to maximize desegregation."

Valenzuela said she would not comment pending litigation, but in the court filing she noted that in 1994, Arizona adopted an open-enrollment policy for its school districts. As a result, all TUSD schools became affected by the desegregation order, she argued. And while TUSD did not have to maintain ethnic balances districtwide, it had the duty to refrain "from taking actions that adversely affect desegregation efforts and that promote segregation."

As an example, she cited Naylor Middle School, where 200 students, both Anglo and minority, were allowed to transfer in violation of TUSD's own ethnic-balance-transfer policy. The violation was revealed only after the school district was ordered to investigate statements by the Independent Citizens Committee, the group charged with overseeing TUSD's desegregation efforts.

"The district's failure to provide such information in the annual reports denied the plaintiffs, the ICC and this court a realistic snapshot of the state of desegregation districtwide, thus also denying them the opportunity to challenge the district's practices," Valenzuela wrote.

Salter could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but in a message Monday night he called TUSD's expert reports "voodoo statistics" and said the district had not made a good-faith attempt to maintain desegregation efforts, which he called a fundamental starting point.

● Contact reporter George B. Sánchez at 573-4195 or at gsanchez@azstarnet.com.