Bridging Three Centuries

"...The best of times, the worst of times..." 1980-1993 Part 2

More high school concerns
An interesting new twist on Title IX questions regarding male and female sports emerged in the 1980s. Girls played baseball on the Catalina boys' team, and football on the Santa Rita and Cholla teams. Meanwhile a Rincon boy sued the Arizona Interscholastic Association for permission to pay volleyball on the girls' team, as there was no boys' volleyball team. Cheerleading squads were ordered to cheer for girls' teams as well as boys' teams, to the expressed dismay of some parents. (62)

In a lighter episode, Tucson High School was used in 1987 as the location for a Hollywood teenage movie, "Can't Buy Me Love." Students were employed as extras, and the movie producers gave the school a $5,000 dance floor for the performing arts program.

High dropout rates, low test scores, and extremely low expectations for college led the TUSD board to approve a plan to radically affect Pueblo High School. The school would be reorganized, renovated, and restaffed with lower student-teacher ratios. The new school designation brought in a faculty which would receive extra training in the summers, to better develop new programs to assist student learning. An on-site advisory council made up of a cross-section of the community would monitor on the plan. Students would be encouraged to "major" in one of four broad curricular areas.

Additional funding was also provided to Cholla High School in 1987 for building repairs, new computer equipment, and additional staffing. The intent was to upgrade education at the far westside school. With the magnet school open at Tucson High School, the district had made significant efforts to work with the schools identified as critical several years before. However by the end of the decade, Tucson High was criticized by a district compliance committee for not moving quickly enough in establishment of a true magnet curriculum. (63) A new principal and magnet coordinators were hired and the curriculum was altered to better meet the needs of minority students.

Education reform movements
The national discussions on educational reform had their counterparts in Arizona. One effect was a statewide "no-pass, no-play" order from the Arizona State Department of Education. The policy, similar to others across the country, covered all extra-curricular interscholastic activities, ranging from sports to chess clubs. Students were required to pass at least five classes to be eligible to participate in the following semester. In related measures, the school district directed each school to establish site discipline and homework policies which would be distributed to parents, and established districtwide standards for promotion and retention.

The legislature approved a plan to annually test all Arizona school children in first through twelfth grades in reading, grammar, and math. In another action, the Legislature mandated that a daily "period of silence not to exceed one minute in duration will be observed for meditation and during that time no activities shall take place and silence shall be maintained" at the beginning of each school day.

The legislature ordered that the teacher should be the one to decide whether students would be promoted or retained. Under the new law, if parents disagreed with the decision, they could appeal to the school board, which would make the final determination. If the board ruled against the teacher, it would assume liability for the student's future progress.

A creative attempt to stem the tide of violence in the schools began in 1986 with a community-funded venture to train middle school students in techniques of conflict resolution. The initial program, funded by Community Mediation Services, began at Wakefield Middle School, but soon spread to many other middle schools and elementary sites as well. The program trained faculty and students in non-violent effective ways of resolving playground disputes using peer mediators. It continues to the present.

Honors and awards
In spite of financial crises, positive recognition continued to come to the school district, its employees, board members, and students in the 1980s. Soleng Tom, Raul Grijalva, and Laura Almquist were each named Tucson's Man or Woman of the Year. Robert Carpenter was a finalist for the national "Teacher in Space" shuttle program. John S. Brooks and Jody Simmons were each named Science Teacher of the Year. Arthur Ratcliff was chosen Outstanding High School Science Teacher of the Year. Charleyne Brooks was named Arizona Teacher of the Year. Emily Strahler was Arizona Home Economics Teacher of the Year. John Baab was Industrial Education Teacher of the Year. Joan Tolle was the Arizona Business Teacher of the Year. David Ashcraft was honored by the State Department of Education and Suzanne Hathom was chosen Educator of the Year. Gerald A. Halfmann was selected Technology and Industry Teacher of the Year.

Dr. Laura Banks was named an NAACP Outstanding Woman. Dr. Mary Meredith was recognized by the Division of Developmental Disabilities and Mental Retardation Services. Bettye McCant and Leo Johnson were selected Distinguished Administrators by the Arizona School Administrators Association, and Pat Hale was honored as best state high school principal. Freeman B. Hover received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Journalism Education Association. Alex Kerstitch was chosen as one of the nation's best underwater photographers by Natural History Magazine. Raul Grijalva and Georgia Brousseau each received the Friend of Education Award from Phi Delta Kappa.

Throughout the '80s dozens of high school students were named either semi-finalists or finalists as National Merit Scholars or Presidential Scholars. Myers-Ganoung was named one of the "Top 10 Schools in Arizona" in the Arizona Elementary School Recognition Program. Santa Rita High School was named an "Exemplary School" in a national program. Pueblo and Tucson High Schools were each honored for significant improvement by the Ford Foundation' s City High School Recognition fund. The School for Creative and Performing Arts at Utterback was nationally recognized by the U.S. Dept. of Education. Davis Bilingual Learning Center was chosen as an outstanding example of public education, and later in the decade was also given an A+ rating from Instructor magazine. Blenman and Borton Schools were named A+ Schools in the Arizona Elementary School Recognition Program. Catalina High School was nominated from Arizona for the National Secondary School Recognition Program of the U.S. Dept. of Education. University High School began a trend of winning or placing highly in local, state, and national academic decathlons.

Jim Green, Ruth Solomon and Marian Pickens were all elected to the Arizona House of Representatives. Janice Mitich was elected to the Marana School Board and Al Arellano was elected to the Sunnyside School Board. Dr. Charles Ford was elected to the Tucson City Council. C. Diane Bishop was elected State Superintendent of Public Instruction and Dr. Reginald Barr was appointed to the State Board of Education. Richard Martinez and Georgia Brousseau were appointed to the Pima County Merit System Commission. Ed McDonald, a teacher at Project MORE, persuaded Congress to establish a National Day of Excellence as a fitting memorial to the Challenger Space Shuttle tragedy. Robert Halliday was appointed to the State Task Force on School Violence.

The school board itself received an award in the fall of 1984 from the U.S. Department of Education. Secretary Terrell Bell cited TUSD for "outstanding efforts in achieving excellence in education." As one of 17 districts recognized, Bell noted that, "TUSD has made noteworthy progress in implementing the recommendations of the national Commission on Excellence in Education." (64)

Economic conditions
Teacher pay at the start of the decade ranged from $12,050 to $24,581. Dr. Grant's salary was $60,000 in 1981. For the first time in 1983, an early retirement option for employees aged 55 to 60 was available, and the probationary salary schedule was phased out over a period of years. The budget for 1985-86 was $184 million, which employed nearly 5,000 teachers, administrators, and classified workers to provide education for 54,654 students in 98 schools. The pay range for teachers was $16,241 to $35,625. Principals ranged from $35,950 to $50,000 in salary.

Another band-aid on school finance was applied by the Legislature in 1982 when school districts were permitted to spend a portion of their capital-outlay budget for maintenance and operations. This meant that funds reserved by law for purchasing land and permanent school equipment, as well as construction and building improvements, could now be used to pay for teacher salaries and transportation costs. The district greeted this with approval when it first was passed, but as time wore on and the capital budget continued to be depleted, buildings began to fall into serious disrepair.

The following year the legislature permitted school districts to spend beyond the state-imposed spending limits if they were involved in court-ordered desegregation.

More community involvement
The Adopt-A-School partnerships began between local businesses and the school district in the 1980s. By the 1986-87 school year, all of the high schools and many of the elementary and middle schools had formed a variety of relationships with the community. Some were monetary, others involved equipment, and still others provided volunteers to encourage mutual support and respect between the business community and the educational system.

A prime example of this relationship is the Santa Rita High School Hungry Eagle Restaurant. The restaurant on the school campus is run by high school students in Food Preparation and Restaurant Management vocational programs as part of their curriculum. The program was created through a partnership with the Southern Arizona Innkeepers Association.

An interesting blend of technology and curriculum began in 1985 and ran for several years. Volunteers from University High School and the University of Arizona provided on-call help from the Math Homework Hotline. Volunteers answered phone calls from sixth through twelfth grade students having trouble with their math homework. The volunteers had a complete set of math textbooks at hand to find the exact problem with which the student was struggling. Later the program moved onto cable television so students could literally see the problem being worked on chalkboards.

Paul Houston is hired
Dr. Paul Houston was hired on a 3-2 vote in November, 1985, as the next superintendent. The controversy surrounded his previous experience in the Princeton, New Jersey, Public Schools, a much smaller school district. The board minority felt he had insufficient experience with a large, urban, multicultural district. The majority prevailed, using his previous service in Birmingham, Alabama, as a counterpoint to the claim. Houston was described by one board member as "a creative problem-solver, and he's willing to dismiss those not performing." His salary was $85,000 plus $9,500 in benefits.

Subsequently, Dr. Magett chose to accept a position in Chicago. Soon afterwards she filed a discrimination charge against the district, claiming that her credentials were superior and that the choice of Dr. Houston was biased. Her complaint included charges that a particular board member had placed unreasonable work demands upon her. Although her charges were dismissed by the Arizona Civil Rights Division, Dorothy Magett sued the district anyway. Admitting no bias in the matter, the board voted 4-1 to settle out of court for $55,000.

Board troubles
The decade of the 1980s was another time of great conflicts and intensity on the school board. Board members often criticized each other and the administration at public meetings. In contrast to the similar trouble in the '70s, however, there were no clearly drawn lines between the members. Alliances changed depending upon the issues. Although major decisions such as hiring the superintendent were often conducted on split votes, on many other areas they voted unanimously. Cutting the budget often brought out frustrated attacks on each other's priorities. That dissension carried over within the district administration.

In a February, 1986, speech to the Tucson Metropolitan Ministry, Dr. Houston described the tone of the district. He said, "The board may be the most visible example of this, but it's more than the board. It's between parents and board members, board members and teachers, teachers and administrators. This whole district has become programmed, over a period of time, to conflict, and I would rather be in the position of searching for solutions to problems than acting as a referee. We've got to stop this senseless bickering we have here and get on to some action."

New financial conditions
Enrollment began to move slowly up out of the dip of the preceding decade. In 1986, there were 54,000 students in the district attending 98 schools. The following year the enrollment rose again to 55,400. A slow but steady increase has continued to the present day.

An election in February, 1988, to renew the 1985 override budget and provide $40 million in construction bonds proved unsuccessful. The failure of the override required $7.9 million to be trimmed from the district budget in the first of several years of cutbacks. When override funds are used for continuing operational costs, the loss of them can have very serious effects on district personnel and programs. Under Arizona law, once an increase has been approved in an override election, unless the district voters continue to approve the expenditure of those funds in later elections, the dollars are lost from the budget over several years, putting the district budget back where it was prior to the first override.

A group calling itself Concerned Citizens for Quality Education led the opposition, making unfavorable comparisons to administrative costs in the Mesa Public Schools. Dr. Houston responded sharply in an article in the Tucson Weekly in April, 1988. He pointed out that while the two districts had similar enrollments, approximately 56,000 students, the Mesa district had only 60 more recently constructed schools. In contrast TUSD had 103 schools, half of which were constructed at least 30 years ago.

Another comparison was the relative size of the schools. In Mesa, an elementary school enrollment was between 700 and 1200 students, while in Tucson, the elementary schools ranged from 300 to 500 on the average, with similar disparity at the secondary levels. The experience in Tucson was that parents wanted small schools left open, no matter the cost. Still another area of significant difference in costs were the special programs required in TUSD, such as bilingual education, adaptive education, desegregation, and poverty programs, none of which were in the Mesa area. The economically and culturally diverse Tucson area was demographically different from the more homogenous Mesa.

Not satisfied with defeating the 1988 override, members of the opposition citizen group65 accused the district of violating a variety of election laws. However, the State Attorney General repeatedly cleared the district of any wrongdoing.

Houston's salary at the end of the '80s was $94,821 plus a benefits package amounting to another $12,000. He managed a $206 million budget for 57,000 students. A Citizen article described the budget in this way: "The district already spends about $800,000 a day to operate 103 schools and 27 maintenance, transportation and administrative sites. About 95 percent of that goes to pay the district's 7,000 employees." (66)

Other administrative salaries ranged from $42,000 for a departmental assistant director to $54,569 for a high school principal with a doctorate. Senior administrative staff at the assistant superintendent level earned more. Although the common public view was that district administrators were highly paid, an independent 1991 Educational Research Service national survey of administrative salaries showed their salaries were below the national average at every level. (67)

More cuts in program and personnel
Among the cuts forced by the loss of the override were reductions for classified employees in hours and months worked. Some administrators in curriculum areas were returned to the classroom or left the district. Some employees found their positions cut, and the duties reassigned to new titles at lower pay. Half of the department chairmen at the high schools were eliminated. Assistant principals at small middle schools were cut, as was one custodian at each high school. New library books were cut, and sabbatical leaves were eliminated. The opening of Soleng Tom Elementary School was delayed for a year. Staff reductions were ordered in all schools without desegregation or target status. The annual administrators' conference, which had been under attack for several years in the press as wasteful, was moved from local hotels to a school auditorium.

Parents from Pistor, Wakefield and Mansfeld Middle Schools sued the school district, charging lower standards of education because of discriminatory practices. They alleged that expectations were lower, that the sites were in disrepair, and that inadequate furnishings and curriculum were prevalent. Parents from Tucson and Pueblo High Schools filed a similar suit. The high school suit was settled in 1992.

New plans put in place
In the fall of 1988, Dr. Houston introduced two significant initiatives. The first was Mission SUCCESS. The acronym meant Student achievement, Unbinding minority expectations, Core curriculum with benchmark testing, 1ient satisfaction, Empower schools, Student engaged time, and Supervision for effective instruction. The program was a total district plan intended to focus departmental and school site attention on meeting student needs.

The other major initiative was the TUSD 2000 planning process. In recognition that the turn of the century was just 12 years away, Houston called for a series of planning meetings involving district employees, parents and the business community, focusing on what the schools should look like in the year 2000 A.D.

In the fall of 1989, the district began a pilot process exploring site-based management for schools. The project continues today to develop more sites which can function in a site-based format.

Major community hearings took place on a new sex education curriculum in the fall of 1989. More than 1,200 parents attended meetings to express their support or opposition to the proposed program. Although many parents spoke in favor of a limited program called "Sex Respect," which advocated only abstinence, the board chose to unanimously approve an optional district-written curriculum. The program, designed for grades four through 12 in three-week units each year, recommended abstinence but also provided factual information about physical changes, disease and contraception, at age-appropriate levels, as well as defining a variety of controversial subjects such as homosexuality and abortion. The curriculum recommended that those subjects be left to parental and religious discussion.

The huge bond project
Returning to the voters in May, 1989, the district asked for the most ambitious bond funds yet: $349 million dollars to repair and renovate the aging school district, and $39 million for instructional technology, as well as $12 million in override funds, which would extend the school year by two days and lower class size by one student. A newspaper campaign showed the public school buildings in dilapidated condition. Voters approved the bond funds, but denied the override. The district found itself in the unusual position of having more money than ever to spend on building repair, construction, and instructional technology, and yet being required to make additional massive cuts in the maintenance and operation budget.

Faced with an abundance of construction funds, the process of earmarking them for individual schools began. The board created a four-phase division of the district, which placed in the first phase those schools where the most significant repairs were needed. Because of the magnitude of the total project, and the recent history within the district of serious construction problems, the board decided to hire a manager who would be responsible for the completion of the entire project. Robert O'Toole, was selected to fill the position of director of engineering reporting directly to the superintendent. O'Toole brought to the job 10 years of experience in the U. S. Army doing similar work.

Throughout the early days of the bond project, the school board repeatedly made clear that it should be involved early and directly in bond decisions. Parent concerns over plans for Johnson School, Carrillo, and others led the board to publicly state they didn't want to hear about bond decisions after the public had heard them first.

One of the principal tools needed for the construction bond project to work was portable classrooms. Although the district had used various types of portable classrooms ever since the 1960s to accommodate overcrowded schools, the $100,000 portables being used for the construction relocation were of special quality. Each was equipped with air conditioning, carpeting, bottled water, bulletin boards, chalkboards, and toilets. Of that cost, $10,000 was for relocation including foundations, electrical, water, and communication systems. 68 Students in the older schools often found the portable classrooms more comfortable than their original classrooms in the old buildings. During the renovation, the classes must move out of the original building and be relocated, often for a year at a time. When one site was finished with its remodeling and returned to its new facilities, the portables were moved to another school and used again.

As the older schools were renovated, interesting bits of historical trivia emerged. Davis School uncovered murals painted on chalkboards dating from 1937. Roskruge discovered a time capsule in its foundation.

Catalina High School -- the controversy
Perhaps the most controversial decision or series of decisions of the bond project involved Catalina High School. The board debated over two years' time closing, renovating, or replacing the school. On each proposal the board split, usually on a 3-2 vote, with occasionally contradictory results. A governing board election changed the balance of power and in early 1993 a motion passed on another 3-2 split vote to close Catalina High and to build a new southwest side high school. The Catalina High School community was devastated. Teachers and students were assigned to other schools for the following year.

Hundreds of letters to the editor of the newspapers were written on both sides of the issue, as well as numerous editorial columns. A group of Catalina parents took the issue to federal court where they were joined by attorneys Salter and Zavala from the original desegregation trial. Three weeks before the end of the 1992-93 school year, Judge Alfredo C. Marquez ruled that the closure would hinder the district's 15-year-old desegregation efforts by dividing the district into ethnically identifiable high schools. The ruling didn't receive general approval. Teachers and principals in all the district high schools had made plans for the following year based on the closure, all of which must now be undone.


(62)Larry Copenhaver, "Cheerleaders not cheered by new policy" Tucson Citizen November 20, 1987.

"Three cheers for coed cheerleaders" editorial Tucson Citizen November 21, 1987.

(63)Steffannie Fedunak "Tucson High magnet is a 'sham,' TUSD group says" Arizona Daily Star May 3, 1990.

(64)Susan M. Knight, "TUSD board recognized for leadership by U.S" Arizoria Daily Star October 17, 1984.

(65)Members of the Concerned Citizens for Quality Education included Ed Kahn, the attorney who represented PROBE during the desegregation trial, who was also an unsuccessful candidate for TUSD school board and for the legislature. Another unsuccessful school board candidate in the group was Angela Rohr, who along with Jerry Peyton, were members of the citizen group supporting the Sex Respect sex education curriculum.

(66)Larry Copenhaver, "TUSD divvying $398 million" Tucson Citizen Aug. 25, 1989.

(67)Larry Copenhaver, "Principals' pay here below average" Tucson Citizen March 8, 1991.

(68)Christina Valdez, "TUSD students embrace portable classrooms" Tucson Citizen August 31, 1991.

Bridging Three Centuries, By Georgia Cole Brousseau, 1993