/ Modified oct 18, 2016 10:37 a.m.

TUSD Race Focuses on Teacher Retention, Transparency

Crowded race: Three incumbents and four challengers seek three seats.

TUSD forum 2016 Candidates for TUSD governing board meet in forum to discuss issues facing the district's schools, September 2016.
Michael Hernandez
By Michael Hernandez, AZPM Intern

The race for Tucson Unified School District’s governing board is a crowded one, with three incumbents and four challengers running for three open spots on the board.

At a recent forum, the candidates spelled out their stances on issues ranging from district finances and transparency to student discipline and diversity.

Kristel Foster portrait Kristel Foster

Establishing financial transparency on the board is a key issue for Kristel Foster, who is seeking a second four-year term. People may not have noticed the work the board has done during her time to make the district more transparent, she said.

“I think what’s difficult is not enough people here go to other school board meetings for the comparison. Every month we have a budget update. Other districts do those quarterly,” Foster said.

Betts Putnam-Hidalgo portrait Betts Putnam-Hidalgo

Betts Putnam-Hidalgo, who’s running for the third time, said she has been going to TUSD board meetings for six years. For the district to be transparent, she said, board members have to challenge what superintendent H.T. Sanchez says.

“The superintendent needs to have a board that asks him questions. … I’ll be nice and say that he misspeaks frequently. Or you could say that he often doesn’t tell the truth, and no one – no one – stops him,” Putnam-Hidalgo said.

Rachael Sedgwick portrait Rachael Sedgwick
Via Facebook

Another approach to better transparency came from candidate Rachael Sedgwick, who is a third-year University of Arizona law student with a dozen years of teaching experience. Sedgwick says the district can update technology to better report data to the community.

“The TUSD website right now is not exactly a place where you can go and find all of this information at your fingertips,” Sedgwick said.

Lori Riegel portrait Lori Riegel
Via Twitter

One issue confronting the district is a struggle to retain teachers. Board candidate Lori Riegel is a graduate of University High School with more than 25 years of experience in education.

“I would like to know why teachers are leaving, where they are going,” Riegel said. “Are they going to other districts? Are they leaving the profession? Having that information, I think, would help stem the flow of teachers who are leaving.”

Brett Rustand portrait Brett Rustand
Courtesy of Arizona Department of Veterans' Services

To incentivize them to stay, TUSD gave teachers $700 raises this year using money from voter-approved Proposition 123. But candidate Brett Rustand, who has four children in TUSD schools, says pay raises aren’t enough to help keep teachers.

“The reality is teachers are leaving to other districts where they are earning less money, and it’s important we understand that there’s some significant support issues with our teachers. Teachers control the learning environment in the classroom and they must have the authority and the support to do that,” Rustand said.

Mark Stegeman portrait Mark Stegeman, TUSD board member.

Incumbent Mark Stegeman said he agrees with Rustand that the district needs to reform its disciplinary policy.

“Discipline is a huge issue. … [A teacher] came up to me in Starbucks the other day and said: ‘I’m out of here. The school’s out of control.’ And this is how we’re losing a lot,” said Stegeman, who is running for his fourth term.

Cam Juarez portrait Cam Juarez

Another incumbent, Cam Juarez, says the district has improved its discipline policies, which he says previously disproportionately affected racial and ethnic minorities. He agreed teachers need to be trained to deal with students when issues come up but said they should take into account different life experiences.

“We all have implicit biases. It’s our personal experiences in life. It’s what we were afforded. … The idea that those experiences aren’t going to impact how we deal with those that we supervise, those that we teach, is not okay,” Juarez said.

Juarez and Foster have consistently voted with board president Adelita Grijalva to form a majority on the five-member board. Stegeman is campaigning to change that majority, and he is endorsing Rustand, Putnam-Hidalgo and Riegel as candidates with whom he can work.

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