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Another top TUSD administrator set to resign

The deputy superintendent of TUSD, Karen Kopec, has submitted her resignation. Kopec came to Tucson last year from Texas, where she had worked with H.T. Sanchez — the TUSD chief who was pushed out in February.

Kopec's departure means that there will be yet another vacant chair in the district's leadership, even as TUSD's Governing Board is only beginning a search for a permanent replacement for Sanchez. The district's HR head, Anna Maiden, also resigned recently, while general counsel Todd Jaeger and assistant superintendent Abel Morado are finalists for an open superintendent's spot in the neighboring Amphitheater school district.

Kopec said she plans to return to Texas.

She came to TUSD in July 2016 after, Adrian Vega, another associate of Sanchez who had also worked with him in the Ector County Independent School District in Texas, left for a position in a different district. Kopec, no relation to local Democratic activist and former legislator Matt Kopec, was hired as the deputy superintendent of teaching and learning. She was temporarily the acting superintendent after Sanchez's ouster.

Sanchez listed Kopec as a reference when he applied for the top job in Tucson's largest school district in 2013.

Last week, the Governing Board tapped Gabriel Trujillo, the assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, to run the district as the search for a permanent head gets under way.

The top post in TUSD was vacant after H.T. Sanchez resigned last month with a $200,000 payout to settle contract issues.

Trujillo will be paid a prorated salary of $200,000 to serve until June 30. The district will also cover his professional expenses. He will continue to receive the same benefits as in his administrative post — a job he will keep under the contract that begins Wednesday.

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The divided Board had previously been unable to tap an interim administrator for the district, despite multiple meetings to discuss the options. At one point, the district had been set to hire two temporary administrators, at an annualized cost of nearly $400,000 plus benefits.

Just less than two weeks ago, the night before the Governing Board was set to approve a contract to hire former district administrator Maggie Shafer as the interim superintendent, she withdrew her name from consideration. TUSD was set to hire her, along with a deputy she hand-picked, to run the district through June after Sanchez's resignation.

Shafer pulled her name as the person to be hired for the post following TucsonSentinel.com's report that the district appears to have broken state open meeting laws in the process of negotiating a deal to hire a deputy to work for her.

She was the sole candidate interviewed in person for the interim job at a meeting earlier that week, district sources said.

The Board had scheduled a March 17 meeting to approve contracts for an interim superintendent and deputy superintendent for the school district. But, although the Board discussed superintendent candidates at a closed-door meeting earlier that week, the matter of the deputy appointment had never appeared on a prior meeting agenda. The names of the two intended hires were added to the agenda for the meeting after TucsonSentinel.com's report that Shafer would be given a contract, and that an agreement had been negotiated with a deputy without such a position having ever appeared on an agenda for Board discussion. The Board had recently been ordered by the state attorney general to attend a class on open meeting laws because of previous infractions.

The meeting, announced on the morning of March 16, was called off that night after Shafer told district officials she no longer wanted the post.

If the Board had approved the deal, Shafer would have been paid based on a pro-rated basis of a $239,200 annual salary, while her new deputy — Teri Melendez, a former district administrator —was to be paid on the basis of a $144,000 annual salary plus a $3,000 "stipend." Shafer would have been eligible for a $3,750 "performance stipend," and both were to be provided extensive district benefits in contracts that were to run through June 30.

Trujillo's pay will be temporarily bumped to a prorated share of $200,000 per year. His salary as an assistant superintendent was not immediately available from district officials. With the district having yet to begin searching for a permanent superintendent, it's likely that a clause in his contract allowing for an extension past June 30 will be invoked.

Sanchez ousted in February

Sanchez stepped down on Feb. 28, with the split Board looking to push him out.

He left with an agreement that would pay him $200,000 to walk away from the district — and binds board members with confidentiality and non-disparagement clauses.

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The Board voted 3-2 that night to accept Sanchez's resignation and approve the separation agreement. He had 16 months to run on his contract, which paid him a base salary of $270,000.

That vote followed a closed-door Board meeting that lasted a bit more than an hour. That executive session was the third in as many weeks, as the board members conferred with attorneys who, along with Hicks, hashed out the deal for Sanchez's resignation out of the public eye.

The terms of the separation agreement weren't publicly spelled out at the meeting, and board members declined to comment in detail about the deal, citing a confidentiality clause. Under the contract, Sanchez could sue if any member of the Board spoke negatively about him — and they would be personally liable for any damages.

The deal, which Grijalva described as a "compromise," was a middle path between paying off the approximately $500,000 Sanchez would be due under his contract, or firing him for cause but likely triggering an expensive lawsuit that could cost the district even more. In addition to the lump sum, Sanchez will be paid whatever salary and benefits he was due through Tuesday, officials said.

The deal also includes a clause that prohibits any member of the Governing Board from "making derogatory statements" about Sanchez —effectively gagging those who pushed to fire Sanchez or have him resign from future comments about their reasons for wanting to remove the superintendent.

Sanchez, who was paid a base salary of $270,000 and a substantial benefit and incentive package to lead the district of about 50,000 students, was hired in 2013 to fill a spot left vacant after the sudden resignation of John Pedicone, who quit with more than a year his contract.

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 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.

Like the superintendents before him, Sanchez's tenure was marked by controversies over the district's four-decade-old desegregation plan, budget challenges and declining enrollment. Unlike the ethnic studies issue that stirred passions under Pedicone, there wasn't a single flash point for those who want Sanchez removed from his post. Some teachers claimed misappropriation of Prop. 301 funds that were supposed to find their way to the classroom, and other opponents pointed to the recent loss of desegregation magnet status at a number of schools.

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