As San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro prepares to take the Democratic Party convention stage as keynote speaker Tuesday evening, the floundering Tucson Unified School Board (TUSD) quietly issued its own message on the city's nationally acclaimed but now outlawed Mexican American Studies program.
Under the cover of a distracted local news media focused on the primary election results last week--and in the face of a US Department of Ed Civil Rights investigation and book-banishing notoriety--the TUSD school board voted to raise the salary on the $211,000 contract of controversial Superintendent John Pedicone, whose use of excessive police force and demonization of Mexican American Studies advocates have earned him the title of "Sheriff Arpaio of American schools."
And the kicker: The TUSD board gave Pedicone a $35,000 performance pay bonus, including an extra ninth week of paid leave. (Pedicone donated the bonus to a non-profit foundation founded by Tucson's business community.)
Strangely enough, Pedicone's contract and bonus were not supported by board member Mark Stegemen, whose emotional state hearing testimony labeling the MAS program as "cult-like" fortified the state's attack. Nor did board member Michael Hicks, who brought national shame on Tucson for his embarrassing performance on The Daily Show, support Pedicone's contract. (Hicks did vote for the bonus.)
On the other hand, support for Pedicone's increased salary and bonus, did come from board member Adelita Grijalva, who voted against last January's suspension of the MAS program.
"At the very least, we expect our elected officials to hold bureaucrats accountable and ensure that they manage day to day duties in the best interests of their constituents," long-time education activist Miguel Ortega noted. "But if the very process of hiring and evaluating top bureaucrats is flawed, the life of that boss/employee relationship will remain problematic. At its core, this is exactly what is happening now at TUSD and, as a result, our students, teachers and community are suffering the consequences."
With the Tucson school district still saddled with an embarrassing desegregation order, such conflicting, bungling and ultimately damaging power plays by the TUSD board on behalf of Pedicone's crackdown on Mexican American Studies, however, are nothing new.
According to TUSD parent and MAS advocate Jana Happel, the TUSD board failed to properly pursue a "safe harbor" for the acclaimed program from the git-go of the unabashed witch hunt of Mexican American Studies by Attorney General Tom Horne:
"One way to understand the safe harbor is to look at what the US did with regard to SB 1070. Like the U.S. in that case, and prior to taking any Board action to shut down the program, TUSD (or MALDEF on behalf of the Mendoza plaintiffs) could have asked Judge Bury to invoke the authority of the federal courts pursuant to the Supremacy Clause. Specifically, the court's authority under federal law to desegregate TUSD schools trumps state law and HB 2281 in particular. Bury already said this when he invoked that authority twice this summer when he denied Horne leave to intervene. TUSD could have asked Bury to enjoin (i.e. prohibit) Huppenthal from taking any enforcement action pursuant to HB 2281 or any other state law against the MAS program that is mandated by the Post-Unitary Status Plan, which is court-ordered."
Additionally, Happel pointed out that TUSD even failed in adequately carrying out last year's state-level appeal:
"As a second option, TUSD could have concurrently appealed (state Superintendent of Public Instruction John) Huppenthal's ruling in state court, but not necessarily with the objective of overturning his finding of violation. Rather, TUSD could have asked a real judge in Superior Court to rule on the constitutionality of HB 2281, something the administrative law judge believed he was not authorized to do. If TUSD's only objective on appeal was to overturn Huppenthal's decision, it would have a very heavy burden because it did not put on its strongest case in the administrative hearing. For instance, TUSD's lawyer did no cross-examination of Stegeman when he compared an MAS class to a cult. Anyone who has watched Law and Order knows that the lawyer needs to shred him on cross-examination."
As the new semester begins on this note, and as Tucson awaits the federal court decision on the constitutionality of Arizona's notorious laws on Ethnic Studies, it appears that the TUSD school board and Pedicone will continue to blunder on like a bad rerun itself.
Follow Jeff Biggers on Twitter @JeffRBiggers