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TUSD gives Sanchez 3-year $240k contract as new sup't

Deal includes 50% bonus for serving out third year

H.T. Sanchez, the new superintendent of Tucson Unified School District, will be paid $210,000 yearly as part of a three-year contract approved by the Governing Board on Friday night.

He will also receive over $31,000 in benefits, and be eligible for a six-percent performance bonus and a third-year incentive of 50 percent of his pay for that year. That bonus could be worth $124,000.

Sanchez signed the contract and sent a copy to the Board on Saturday afternoon, Board Clerk Kristel Foster said.

The Board voted unanimously to approve the contract, after deciding 4-1 last week to hire the 38-year-old Sanchez to lead Tucson's largest school district.

In addition to the base pay, benefits and bonuses, TUSD will pay for Sanchez's health, vision and dental insurance, and cover $8,000 in moving expenses. District spokeswoman Cara Rene did not know the value of the insurance package, which is not provided in the contract.

Board President Adelita Grijalva wouldn't detail the negotiations that lasted for the last two weeks.

"We had some logistics to work out," she said after the vote.

Sanchez did not attend the meeting. He returned a signed copy of the contract at 2:23 p.m. Saturday.

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He had until 5 p.m. Saturday to execute the contract, and had indicated he would sign it, Grijalva said Friday night. Some at his current district in Texas, where he is an interim superintendent, had indicated they want him to stay on, and the school board there had scheduled a meeting Monday to consider offering him a permanent contract.

"While I did not vote for this choice, I will vote for this contract" and offer Sanchez "full support," Boardmember Mark Stegeman said just before the vote.

"It is a lot of money, but so is the responsibility of Tucson Unified," said Boardmember Cam Juarez.

The contract calls for a 50 percent bonus to be paid to Sanchez, in the form of a retirement annuity, if he serves out his third year. The amount would be determined by his base pay plus the $25,000 for expenses; if Sanchez were given a three percent raise each year, the bonus could be nearly $124,000.

Outgoing Superintendent John Pedicone was paid $211,000 in annual salary, with total compensation about $305,000, including $55,000 in tax-deferred retirement funds.

Stegeman pointed out that Sanchez's total compensation would be "considerably less" than that paid to Pedicone, even if the bonus were amortized over three years.

The Board had recessed a special meeting from Thursday evening until Friday, citing the need to continue negotiations. That special meeting followed a lengthy executive session that was part of a Tuesday meeting of the Board.

TUSD attorney Martha Durkin said the Board could recess that meeting and resume within 24 hours without posting another meeting notice, as the agenda remained the same. The only items on the agenda were a contract for the new superintendent, and consulting agreements with Pedicone and deputy superintendent Maria Menconi, who is also leaving the district.

Those current officials will serve as consultants for TUSD, with the Board approving contracts through the end of August. Pedicone will be paid $1,000 daily for services; Menconi will be paid $750 daily. Both will work on an as-needed basis.

"I'm proud of how our team worked together," Foster said Friday, calling the process of hiring a new superintendent "a bonding experience."

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Foster said the third-year bonus will help retain Sanchez as superintendent. "We need someone to stick around," she said Saturday, referencing the district's five previous leaders over the past decade.

"I do have issues with this," said Boardmember Michael Hicks prior to Friday's vote, but indicated he would support the contract.

Grijalva said the contract was "well within the limits for salary and fringe" laid out in TUSD's posting of the position, which had advertised a base salary of $190,000-215,000. She said that the Board eliminated entire sections of a contract proposed by Sanchez.

Some of the terms proposed by him are "apparently pretty standard in Texas, but it didn't make a lot of sense" to the Board, Grijalva said. She wouldn't elaborate on which terms were eliminated.

Although Sanchez has said he was seeking a post in which he could serve five years or more, Arizona law limits the district to no more than a three-year contract, with the option for extensions.

In taking the TUSD post, Sanchez will leave the 28,000-student Ector County Independent School District in Odessa, Texas, where he has been interim superintendent since March 26.

He will take over the 50,000-student Tucson district on Monday, succeeding John Pedicone, who is stepping down after two years with the district.

In a decade, TUSD has seen five different superintendents. Prior to Pedicone, the superintendent's chair was filled by Stan Paz, Roger Pfeuffer, Elizabeth Celania-Fagen, and interim chief John Carroll.

Long resumé of short stays

At Ector County, Heliodoro Torres "H.T." Sanchez was elevated from a position of chief of staff when the previous superintendent announced his retirement. Sanchez had served in that position for two years.

Sanchez has no other CEO-level experience. Working in education for 15 years, he has served as a district-level bilingual services director, executive director of instructional support services, and as an assistant superintendent for accountability and special populations. Previously, he was a middle school and high school principal, including two years leading a K-6 Catholic school. He spent two years as an assistant principal in an elementary school, and taught junior-high English for two years.

His resume doesn't include any position lasting more than two years. Although he has worked for Ector County ISD since fall 2010, his resume includes positions at three other Texas school districts.

Sanchez is also an adjunct professor at Texas A&M University-Commerce, where he teaches graduate-level education administration courses.

Last July, Sanchez withdrew as a finalist for the post of superintendent of Socorro Independent School District in El Paso. He was one of three finalists for that position.

Two-hour questioning

Two weeks ago, Sanchez appeared at a public forum in Tucson after having been announced as the sole finalist for the position, speaking for two hours before an audience of about 90 at Catalina High. Sanchez gave his take on issues facing the district, including qualified support for Mexican American studies, a rejection of guns in schools, and a willingness to grapple with charter schools.

Sanchez said he is familiar with desegregation cases such as the court order TUSD remains under, and said dealing with such situations is a matter of "honoring the dignity" of those who have been violated. "They feel that they've been wronged, that they've been denied something."

Sanchez called for an "honest conversation" about resolving desegregation issues, "rather than paperwork or facades or hollow programs."

"Education is the civil right of the 21st century," he said.

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He offered qualified support for TUSD's Mexican American Studies program, but expressed concern about students "being indoctrinated."

I don't have enough information" to judge the now-cancelled program on its merits, he said.

Sanchez said the history of all ethnic groups should be taught, not just that of a single group.

"It needs to be in there, but so does everybody else's story," he said.

Sanchez said it's a teacher's responsibility to empower students to think critically, not to tell them what to think about political issues. He used the example of his knowledge of events at the Alamo expanding as he learned more history.

Sanchez did offer support for teaching creationism, and termed climate change a "point of view."

"Speaking as a dad, and as a potential superintendent of this district, my opinion is very simple: our job is not to indoctrinate students," he said.

"I believe our job is to teach them how to read, teach them how to write, teach them mathematics, and you present them with information. You empower them to think critically, and they'll come to their own conclusions," he said

"Evolution, creationism, global warming; they're all perspectives," Sanchez said.

The superintendent candidate acknowledged that he has only three month's experience leading his own district - on an interim basis - but pointed to his years of educational leadership and his relative youth as a plus, saying he'll have the energy for the long hours required.

He also deflected concerns about being picked because of his ethnicity with a joke.

"They call me a Hispanic," he said. "Well, I don't hiss and I don't panic."

Sanchez said that children of undocumented immigrants are "passive participants" in any violations of the law, and that schools are not allowed to discriminate against them.

Sanchez said he would purchase a home in the district, and that his children would attend TUSD schools.

He grew animated responding to a question about charter schools.

"It's part of my character to be very upfront," he said. "I hope and pray that I don't offend anybody who believes in charter schools."

"Whatever charters offer, I believe we can offer better," he said to audience applause. "I believe that we do offer a better product."

He said Common Core standards are "not the ceiling, that's the floor."

"There's something noble in wanting to make sure every American knows at least these things, but we should never allow ourselves to be limited by those things," he said.

Education is difficult work, Sanchez said.

"There are no silver bullets out there, there are no panaceas," Sanchez said. "You don't chamber that silver bullet, shoot it and kill the ugly werewolf of low performance," he said.

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Jun 30, 2013, 8:49 am
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Ryan Revock/TucsonSentinel.com

Sanchez spoke at a public forum June 12.