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Stegeman ousted as TUSD board president

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Stegeman ousted as TUSD board president

Pedicone donates $30k performance pay to district

  • TUSD Governing Board member Adelita Grijalva, center, discusses her motion to replace the board's president, Mark Stegeman, left, with Miguel Cuevas, right.
    Dylan Smith/TucsonSentinel.comTUSD Governing Board member Adelita Grijalva, center, discusses her motion to replace the board's president, Mark Stegeman, left, with Miguel Cuevas, right.

By a 3-2 vote, the Tucson Unified School District Governing Board handed its gavel to Miguel Cuevas on Tuesday night, removing Mark Stegeman from the center seat on the dais.

The motion, brought by board member Adelita Grijalva, was supported by Board Clerk Judy Burns and Cuevas. Stegeman and board member Michael Hicks voted against the move.

A motion by Hicks to hand Burns' clerkship to Stegeman died for lack of a second.

Explaining her push to remove Stegeman, Grijalva said he had abused his authority to run meetings, and held too many private meetings with district Superintendent John Pedicone.

Stegeman rejected her claims.

Stegeman has become a target for supporters of TUSD's embattled ethnic studies program, which is undergoing a review by a state administrative judge after the district appealed a ruling by the state public school's chief that it violates the law. TUSD faces the loss of $15 million—10% of its state funding—if the classes are found to promote ethnic chauvinism or be designed for students of a single ethnic group.

Stegeman had called for an overhaul of the district's Mexican American Studies classes earlier this year, drawing the ire of MAS proponents.

Despite the calls for his resignation, he'll continue to serve out his term, which expires in December 2012.

During the roll call on replacing Stegeman with Cuevas, board member Michael Hicks read scathing remarks about the actions of Burns and Grijalva, sarcastically thanking them for their "stellar leadership... for our kids," which drew a rebuke from Burns.

After the vote, incoming president Cuevas said the Stegeman had become a polarizing figure on the board.

"His heart is in the right place," Cuevas said. "At this point, it’s very clear the board is divided and this community is divided and I believe that we need to work together."

"I think it's important that the Governing Board has a leader that represents at least the majority of the board," Cuevas said, saying that he's been a swing vote on several issues.

Despite some initial reluctance to speak on camera following the vote, Stegeman agreed.

"I think we need to spend more time talking about the issues that effect schools, that effect education," he said.

"One of the problems in TUSD's culture is too much discussion of personalities," he said.

"The board is polarized... the board is split," he said.

"I think there was an unstated issue here, which was the ethnic studies issue, which has plagued the board all year," Stegeman said.

"There are a lot of cameras here, but in some senses this is one of the least important issues we've dealt with. I wish we could get media attention on the decisions that we make that actually have a big impact on schools. You should come back for that stuff."

"Unfortunately, we're still mired in the ethnic studies issue," but school site planning, the district's budget and union relations are all ongoing issues, he said.

Stegeman's ouster was hailed by ethnic studies proponent Miguel Ortega, a former TUSD board candidate.

"We have a victory, a small victory, but we'll take any victory right now," he said.

"Stegeman continued to fundamentally fail as a president," he said. "He was really, really tone-deaf... He was actually being very hostile, specifically about ethnic studies...."

Tuesday's move was the second time the board considered replacing Stegeman this summer. A motion by Burns to oust him two months ago died for lack of a second.

Stegeman raised the ire of ethnic studies supporters by testifying in TUSD's appeal of the state's ruling that he observed behavior in a class that reminded him of practices described in a book on cult psychology.

Although he has expressed support for the study of Mexican-American history, Stegeman has also expressed concern that MAS classes may promote ethnic resentment in violation of state law.

About 60 members of the public, mostly MAS supporters, were on hand at the meeting. The audience burst into applause both for Stegeman's removal, and an earlier announcement by Pedicone that he would donate his $30,000 performance pay back to the district.

Pedicone pointed out that district employees received a three percent pay increase this year—their first in four years.

"I don't feel it would be appropriate to accept it, in view of the condition that we find ourselves in," he said.

Pedicone was awarded the performance pay by the board, as called for in his contract. Burns, Grijalva and Stegeman emphasized that the amount was not a bonus, but a state-mandated set aside.

The meeting was conducted under tight security. Protest signs were not allowed inside, and members of the public were wanded with metal detectors and had their bags searched, a practice instituted after seven MAS supporters chained themselves to chairs on the Governing Board dais at a meeting earlier this year.

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