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"The end of one era, the challenges of the next" 1960-1979 Part 4

New special education facilities
Maria Urquides Adaptive Education School was the fourth of its type to open in School District 1. Opened in 1977 on the campus of Mary Lynn Elementary, the $685,830 school was designed to serve all levels of handicapped students, including multiple handicapped, trainable handicapped, educable handicapped and physically handicapped. The success of the previous Myers-Ganoung School project led to the establishment of the joint school, which began with 100 students.

Maria Urquides has been described by many as "the mother of bilingual education," because of her major role in encouraging federal legislation to fund such programs. Miss Urquides, born in 1908, was a Tucson native whose parents had little or no education. She attended Mansfeld, Safford and Tucson High Schools before attending Tempe State Teachers College. Later she earned a bachelor's and master's degree at the University of Arizona. Miss Urquides spent 46 years in public education, serving as elementary teacher at Davis and Hughes, high school counselor at Pueblo High School, and district administrator at the time of her retirement in 1974. She had been appointed by five presidents (Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon) to serve on national panels and conferences conceming children and education. Maria Urquides was president of the Tucson Education Association, vice-president of the Arizona Education Association, and member of the Board of Directors of the National Education Association. She was appointed to the original Board of Governors for Pima Community College Board of Governors, and then was the highest vote recipient in the first elected board for the college.

A new facility was constructed for the aging Howenstine High School. The new campus on 555 S. Tucson Boulevard was planned as the first solar-heated school in the state. Designed as a state-of-the-art handicapped facility, all areas were accessible to children with a wide range of disabilities including wheelchairs. A solar-heated therapy pool was installed for the treatment of many handicapped students throughout the district.

Dr. Thomas Lee retires
Following the example set by Superintendents Rose and Morrow, Dr. Lee announced a year in advance that he would be retiring in June, 1977. Although internal candidates applied, a national search was conducted which resulted in hiring Dr. Wilbur H. Lewis from Parma, Ohio. Dr. Lewis was to receive the same salary, $48,500, that Dr. Lee received in his last year of employment.

Dr. Lee' s administration made one more attempt to pass an override election. This one was for $2.3 million in June, 1977. It failed, with a lower voter turnout than in 1975. The newspapers were divided, with the Star giving lukewarm support and the Citizen opposed. Taking note of the declining enrollment of the last few years, in an editorial in April, 1977, the Citizen said: "It is fair to ask why school board members are approaching a difficult financial situation with a 'business as usual' attitude. After all, having fewer students in the classrooms could mean economies in classes, teachers, and other personnel. The board should be looking for ways to cut the budget so the district can live with the lower state support figure and still not exceed the 7 percent spending increase limit." After the election, the Citizen declared, "...this week's override failure should teach them an important lesson. The days of free spending are over."

Upon his retirement, the Educational Materials Center was renamed the Thomas Lee Instructional Resource Center, in recognition of his efforts to improve education. In a Star interview with Raul Grijalva, Dr. Lee's biggest critic on the school board, he commented, "He's retiring from the district but his influence over the district won't be completely gone. He and the board majority formed board policy for the last 10 years. The structure of the district is his. The personnel in the district are his. They've been guided by his philosophy. I don't think you can say he's necessarily gone." (36)

Dr. Thomas Lee was superintendent for only ten years, approximately one-third of the term of his predecessor. Yet in that time, many programs and initiatives began that continue today. Dr. Lee believed that children learned differently, that they were not "cookie cutters." During his administration alternative schools, experimental programs, and bilingual education were implemented. Gifted programs, expanded occupational and career programs, and dropout reduction programs were all developed. More than $40 million in bonds were approved by voters in his time. Dr. Lee was particularly proud of the efforts made to bring the aged Tucson High School into a modern school facility which students from all over the school district could attend.

Perhaps because of the constant attention caused by the desegregation questions, significant and wide-ranging efforts were made to involve the parent community in the work of the school district. Attitude surveys and internal reorganizations were conducted. And finally, it should be noted, that Dr. Lee faced the highest enrollments thus far in the history of Tucson, and the first effects of declining enrollment since the school district began.

Wilbur Lewis comes to Tucson
Dr. Wilbur Lewis arrived in a school district which was changing its name. New legislation permitted the elementary and secondary school districts to merge into a unified K-12 district. July 1, 1977 marked the new name: the Tucson Unified School District, or TUSD, as it was now known. Until this date, the school board had functioned as a board of trustees when dealing with elementary matters, and a board of education when addressing secondary issues. The change meant little in day-to-day functions, but made record-keeping and accounting simpler. At the same time, the board called for an intensive study of district administration by the Peat, Marwick, Mitchell Company, a study that Dr. Lee recommended a year before. It was to examine the full scope of district organization.

Dr. Lewis announced his first goals would be to develop a comprehensive program to work with high school dropouts and those considered likely to drop out, and to require school officials to respond in a timely fashion to issues raised by the public.

The Peat, Marwick, Mitchell Study was completed by December, 1977. The report recommended dividing the district into four regions of 20-30 schools, each to be directed by an assistant superintendent. Among other recommendations it called for reassignment, consolidation, and coordination of duties of some administrators, but said, contrary to public critics, that the school district neither had too many administrators nor paid them too much. Also recommended were several improvements in articulation between levels, and the creation of a coordinated K-12 curriculum. Criticisms were that the district lacked long-range planning and priorities, and was, in the view of respondents, unresponsive to the community. The report noted that $500 million in repairs and replacement of campuses was needed.

Two years later, a new K-12 Curriculum Guide was approved by the school board. The guide was written by a committee of teachers and administrators, and then reviewed by teachers, administrators, and a parent advisory committee prior to board approval. The Curriculum Guide was planned to be reviewed and updated by subject areas on a seven-year cycle.

The teachers' strike of 1978
Relationships between Wilbur Lewis, the school board, and the Tucson Education Association quickly soured. Six months into the Lewis superintendency, statements were appearing in the newspaper in which the board and TEA criticized each other with increasing emotion. Matters became polarized when the TUSD board unilaterally canceled its 10-year-old negotiations policy in an effort to limit TEA participation in contract discussions. One board member described the negotiation policy as, "giving away the store...We had to go with a new policy in order to give the district back to the people." (37) Other board members disassociated themselves publicly from that statement, reflecting the deep split between the board members which had opened during the previous superintendency. (38)

A series of public meetings between the divided board and hundreds of angry teachers took place. Nearly a thousand upset teachers showed up at district headquarters and demanded the board move its meeting to a nearby high school auditorium. By February, articles in the newspapers quoted unidentified board members as saying privately that Lewis was in serious job trouble, while publicly saying his job was not in danger. (39) The confrontations between teachers and the board continued for months.

Until this time, 70 percent of the school district administration had been members of TEA, including Rose, Morrow and Lee. Dr. Lee resigned his membership during an earlier conflict with TEA, but regretted the circumstances. However, Lewis said he did not believe administrators could effectively serve the district while being members of the organization. (40)

During the summer, outside arbitration attempted to resolve the conflict over salary and contract, but TUSD would not agree to the figure the arbitrator recommended, and TEA would not accept the district offer. Teachers voted to reopen negotiations and not to strike at the beginning of school. However another vote was scheduled for October 1 if the impasse was not resolved. Teachers began work at the start of the year while the impasse continued.

Surprisingly, public sympathy lay with the teachers. A Citizen editorial called for negotiations between the two sides: "It is imperative that the board now negotiate in good faith with the teachers, and make an earnest attempt to iron out the problems that have created deep and bitter antagonism over the past 8 months. Should the board fail to negotiate sincerely, its members must share responsibility for the strike if it comes." (41)

By the end of September both sides were gearing up for a strike. Substitute teachers were being recruited with an offer of $55 a day in pay, $30 higher than normal. Although only 57.6 percent of the teachers voted to strike, when it began on October 2, 1978, 2,300 of the 3,000 teachers had walked out. At the high schools, 75 percent of the students stayed home, and only 50 percent attended at the elementary and junior high levels. The strike lasted only a week, when agreement was reached on a two-year contract package. Teachers were granted a liberalized student discipline policy that allowed teachers the right to remove disruptive students from class for a day, an increase in health insurance coverage, and a 6.4 percent pay raise. Beyond the contract specifics, the teachers believed what they really won was the right to negotiate their consensus agreement.

The return of the teachers to the classrooms was followed within weeks by newspaper reports that the board would ask Dr. Wilbur Lewis to resign. However Lewis' serious health problems caused a delay in action. (42)

Eighteen months into his three-year contract, the TUSD board unanimously accepted the resignation of Dr. Wilbur Lewis, buying out the remainder of his contract. As reported in the Citizen, the reason given in the agreement was "material and substantial differences of opinion" between him and the trustees. 43 The Citizen editorialized: "...But the failure of Lewis' administration has not been his fault alone. The Board also bears heavy responsibility for what has happened. From the time that Lewis took over as superintendent of TUSD a year ago last July, the board never allowed him the independence of action and initiative that he needed to do the job. Instead, perhaps because Lewis' two predecessors had been unusually powerful in determining policy as well as implementing it, the board tied Lewis' hands from the first -- and never untied them..." (44)

Closing out a troubled decade
Dr. Florence Reynolds, a widely respected central administrator at the time, was appointed Acting Superintendent on January 1, 1979, the third woman to fill such a post. Once again a nationwide search was advertised. By fall, Dr. Merrill Grant, from Green Bay, Wisconsin, began employment as superintendent of the school district. Merrill Grant had earned a B. S. at the University of Wisconsin, an M.Ed. and an Ed.D. at the University of Toledo. He was superintendent of the Green Bay Public Schools at the time he was hired in TUSD.

A new crisis emerged at the end of the school year. TUSD cafeteria food was found to be contaminated with excessive levels of radioactive tritium. Tritium exists naturally in spring water, and combines readily with water and water vapor. Humidity was blamed for causing cake and bread products to soak it up from the air in excess amounts. The tritium was believed to be coming from the American Atomics Corporation which was located on Plumer Avenue diagonally across from the Central Kitchen for the district. The kitchen was immediately closed, and students were asked to bring their own lunches. After a series of tests for safety and involvement with public health officials and the Pima County Board of Supervisors, the board determined that the food could not be served to children. Some months later, in a so-called "midnight raid" district officials buried about $300,000 worth of contaminated food in an undisclosed location on a local bombing range, after rejecting plans to sell the food or donate it to charitable organizations. (45)


(36)John Woestendiek, "Lee retiring today, with composure intact, after 20 years" Arizona Daily Star June 30, 1977.

(37)Gerald Merrell, "Two District I board members criticize Hafley remarks" Tucson Citizen April 27, 1978.

(38)Merrell, April 27, 1978.

(39)Edith Sayre Auslander, "Lewis'job not in danger, school board says" Arizona Daily Star February 4, 1978.

Gerald Merrell, "District 1 superintendent's style puts his job in jeopardy" Tucson Citizen February 7, 1978.

(4O)Gerald Merrell, "District I board near approval of new rule on contract talks: Teacher opposition expected" Tucson Citizen February 16, 1978.

(41)"Time for TUSD to negotiate now" Tucson Citizen editorial September, 21, 1978.

(42)Jason Eberhart-Phillips and Beverly Medlyn, "Lewis stricken; board shelves job showdown" Arizona Daily Star October 26, 1978.

(43)Larry Fowler, "Next job: Replace school chief' Tucson Citizen December 23, 1978.

(44)"Lewis debacle offers lessons" Tucson Citizen editorial December 26, 1978.

(45)David Carter, "TUSD will junk $646,000 worth of suspect food" Arizona Daily Star July 28, 1979.
Rob Levin, "TUSD buries food by moonlight" Arizona Daily Star September 9, 1979.

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