Crouch: Isquierdo 'lied' about Sunnyside graduation rates
Superintendent dismisses criticism as 'political'
An early-morning meeting of the Governing Board of the Sunnyside Unified School District turned hot and heavy Tuesday, as Boardmember Buck Crouch accused Superintendent Manuel Isquierdo of fudging the numbers of high school graduates from the district.
"He has intentionally falsified, misrepresented, or lied about the data," Crouch said. Isquierdo, the flash point for a recall election, dismissed the accusations as "political."
Crouch pointed to statistics from the Arizona Department of Education that show the South Side district having fewer high school graduates each year than numbers released by the district.
While Isquierdo and Board President Eva Carillo Dong said that Crouch's comments, delivered after the superintendent gave a report to the Board during the meeting, were a violation of the state's Open Meeting Law, Crouch insisted on speaking.
"I believe it's the right of the Board to comment on the superintendent's report," he said.
"I believe Dr. Isquierdo has increased the number of D schools in our district. He has intentionally falsified, misrepresented, or lied about the data to the Governing Board, the parents, to the district and to the community. He has cheated our children. He is an abject failure. For these reasons I demand that Dr. Isquierdo resign from the Sunnyside School District effective immediately," Crouch told an audience of about 15 people who attended the meeting, which began at 7:30 a.m.
During his report, Isquierdo tried to forestall comment on the district's graduation rates. "We don't have time to go over this fully," he said, saying 90 seconds later, "We don't have time to go back over this."
"This is not an agenda item, so we can't comment on it, unfortunately," he said. Although the superintendent's report was not listed as an action item, it did appear on the legally required agenda for the meeting.
Isquierdo told Sunnyside's board that the public accessible data on the ADOE website is incorrect, but that correct statistics are listed on a "log-in screen."
Crouch provided numbers that he says show up to a 25 percent discrepancy between Isquierdo's graduation numbers and those from the state Education Department.
The superintendent gave a lower number of Sunnyside graduates in 2007, Crouch said.
"That's a gross understatement of what graduated the year before Dr. Isquierdo came on board," Crouch said during the meeting. "Every year after that, he has overstated the number of graduates."
Since Isquierdo became superintendent in 2007, the graduation rate has increased from 70 to 72 percent, Crouch said.
"It's not statistically significant. It does not justify all the fanfare that the superintendent has stated," he said.
2013's graduation rate will be 73 percent, Crouch said, contrasting that figure with Tucson Unified School District's 77 percent and a national average of 81 percent.
Isquierdo blasted back at Crouch.
"It's unfortunate that Mr. Crouch will have this opportunity, out of order, to do his best to continue to criticize this district..." Isquierdo said, as Crouch interrupted, saying, "Not the district, Dr. Isquierdo; it's you."
"You are so far off the center of what we have been fighting for," Isquierdo said, addressing a glaring Crouch while avoiding looking in his direction.
"What I struggle with is your continued attempt to discredit, not only our efforts for the last seven years that you have not been part of, that you have continued to criticize, undermine, and have done more to discredit this district's hard work than anyone I have ever seen," Isquierdo said.
"We really stand on our record of increasing graduation for the past five years," Isquierdo said after the meeting. "I stand by what was reported."
"We're not perfect. There's some errors in some reports, probably, at the state department, and maybe a little bit in terms of some things we're doing in other phases," he said. "But everybody who graduates has to pass AIMS."
Some meeting attendees complained about the early hour of the meeting, and that speaking times for members of the public who wished to address the Board were cut from three minutes to two minutes.
Speaking prior to the meeting, Crouch said that Isquierdo scheduled the meeting so early to limit public access, as many district employees and teachers would be unable to attend.
Voters in Sunnyside have been slow to return ballots in the all mail-in recall election that ends May 20. Just over 10 percent of ballots have been cast so far, the Pima County Recorder's Office said last week.
All registered voters in the South Side school district — 26,424 of them — were mailed ballots. As of Wednesday, 2,767 ballots had been verified, Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez said in a news release. That's a return rate of just 10.47 percent in the election. Ballots were mailed late last month.
On the ballot are sitting Governing Board members Bobby Garcia and Louie Gonzales. Beki Quintero and Mike Polak are running against Garcia, and former board member Eric Giffin is seeking to replace Gonzales.
The recall was pushed by opponents of Isquierdo, whose contract was extended last year in a controversial 3-2 vote. Garcia, Gonzales and Dong voted for the contract. Board members Crouch and Daniel Hernandez voted against it.
A recall effort against Crouch and Hernandez last year was abandoned as supporters did not file petitions after failing to gather enough signatures to force a vote.