TUSD Sup't Pedicone announces resignation
Search for new leader to begin immediately
John Pedicone, the superintendent of the Tucson Unified School District, announced his resignation Wednesday.
He will leave his post on June 30, he said in an email to staff. Pedicone confirmed that he was stepping down at a hastily called afternoon press conference.
Pedicone denied that he was pushed out, although he has more than a year remaining on his contract.
"This is not a matter of someone fleeing a place," he told reporters. Governing Board members Kristel Foster and Cam Juarez each said that they had not supported removing the superintendent.
Board member Mark Stegeman said the move was "a big surprise to me. I'm sorry to see this happen." Stegeman said he learned of Pedicone's resignation on Tuesday.
"I stand behind his decision, but it is a great loss for the district," Juarez said.
In an emailed letter to staff, Pedicone said, "This decision did not come easily, but I believe it is in the best interests of the district that I do so. The timing is right. It makes sense to allow our newly elected board members to work with a superintendent who will be in place for the duration of their first board terms. The sooner that happens, the more likely it will be that you will have a leadership team that provides long-term consistency and the stability that you deserve."
Pedicone, who has led the area's largest school district since 2010, has faced criticism for his handling of the state's challenge to TUSD's ethnic studies program, and opposition to school closures and other measures proposed to fill a daunting budget hole. The district has seen low student achievement and declining enrollment in recent years.
"It was terribly difficult for the community as we tried to proceed through the Mexican American Studies issues," Pedicone said.
"I would never have imagined that we would have encountered the community response that we had," Pedicone said Wednesday afternoon. "We're kind of wounded from things that happened."
"Contrary to what people think, this district is not as disabled as people make it to be," he told reporters.
"There's something alluring to see the train wreck," he said.
"We get awards that people don't recognize. We have got the number one school in the nation," he said. "It's not a daunting challenge that's insurmountable."
"It’s fashionable to watch TUSD have trouble," he said. "Stop making it really kind of cool to watch TUSD fail."
"We need to change that into positive thinking if we want to move forward," he said.
He said he expects TUSD's $17 million budget hole to be fixed by the end of June.
Pedicone said he's not considering taking the vacant chancellor's post at Pima Community College.
"Absolutely not," he said, laughing.
"When I was deciding whether to resign, what made the call for me was realizing that this Board needs leaders who are consistent as it works to form a new identity," Pedicone said.
The new Board "deserves to have ... a long-term superintendent that they can begin to work with, that they can cultivate a relationship with," he said.
Announcement moved up after Sentinel breaks news
TucsonSentinel.com broke the news Wednesday morning, prior to Pedicone's release of the letter.
Pedicone did not return a morning phone call, before the letter was sent out, and Governing Board members either declined to comment or did not respond to inquiries regarding his resignation prior to the email.
Appearing with him at the press conference were Board members Michael Hicks and Juarez, and Board President Adelita Grijalva.
"I hope we can continue on the trajectory that we have," Grijalva said.
"It really isn't supporting the administration, it's supporting the vision that we have," she said. "We have to continue to think about the future. We haven't done that as well as we can."
Grijalva said the last few years have been "one of the most negative times I've been a Board member."
Speaking of the state Legislature and Attorney General Tom Horne's targeting of TUSD's MAS courses, she said, "A bill that focused on one district and one department should send red flags. But we have to move past that."
A news conference had been scheduled for midday Thursday for Pedicone to announce that he's leaving his post. That announcement was quickly moved up to Wednesday after TucsonSentinel.com broke the news that the superintendent was stepping down.
"The plan that was tomorrow we would have a press conference and all the board members planned to attend, but because we wanted to get out in front of any misconceptions of anything that has been written, because it is inaccurate and we wanted to give him the opportunity to tell all his staff rather than hear it through the news," Grijalva said.
Dismissal reports denied by Board members
Sources had indicated that Pedicone might be facing dismissal from Board members Grijalva, Juarez and Foster.
Foster, the board's clerk, disputed that account Wednesday.
While declining to comment on the resignation prior to Pedicone's announcement, she said, "There have been no conversations about his dismissal."
"The rumors that we were trying to oust Pedicone were just not true," Juarez told reporters. "I never dreamed that we'd be replacing Dr. Pedicone."
Others TUSD insiders said Pedicone was prompted by the Board's continuing refusal to consider outsourcing blue-collar jobs. Only Hicks and Stegeman have backed proposals to contract with outside companies for some services.
Grijalva, speaking to reporters, also said that the move was not prompted by any Board members, who "reluctantly accepted his resignation."
"I think this Board specifically understands that we have to work together to move forward," Grijalva said Wednesday.
"We're five members of one board," she said. The superintendent is the "only employee we have any influence on, and that's one person. If we understand that, we have limitless potential."
In a decade on the Board, Grijalva said she has seen five different superintendents in Pedicore's seat.
Prior to Pedicone, the TUSD superintendent's chair was filled by Stan Paz, Roger Pfeuffer, Elizabeth Celania-Fagen, and interim chief John Carroll.
Pedicone's $211,000 annual contract was extended by the previous Board — which included Grijalva, Stegeman and Hicks — for an extra year in 2012, to run through June 30, 2014.
Pedicone will resign before the end of his contract. When he took the superintendent's job, he indicated he would stay for three to five years.
"When I came in, I made it pretty clear that I wasn't here for the long term," he said Wednesday.
The move will leave two holes at the top of the district's roster. Maggie Shafer, the assistant superintendent for preschools, elementary and K-8 schools, has submitted her resignation, effective June 28.
Grijalva said that a national search for both replacements will begin immediately and might cost $25,000. "I'm just throwing that out there," she said. The search process that resulted in Pedicone's appointment cost $10,000, she said.
Pedicone's predecessor, Celania-Fagen, also left the district early in her contract. She resigned from TUSD in 2010 after less than two years on the job, citing Arizona's cuts in education budgets for her move to a superintendent's post in Colorado.
"It's fair to call it challenging," said Stegeman when asked about the difficulty in finding a replacement superintendent.
Pedicone's resignation is "a bad outcome" for the district, Stegeman said. "But it's not fatal."
"We'll support the teachers and staff and cabinet as much as we can" during the transition, he said.
Grijalva said the Board will seek out a new superintendent who "won't tear up everything we've gained."
Hicks echoed support for Pedicone.
"For selfish reasons, I'd like him to stay on longer. We had our differences, but I truly believe he was the best man for the job," he said.
TucsonSentinel.com’s Maizie Simpson contributed to this report.