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TUSD seeks to expand diversity in gifted programs

The Tucson agenda

TUSD seeks to expand diversity in gifted programs

Flowing Wells voters may have another school override election in their future, plus more in local gov't meetings

  • A change in how gifted students are placed could add diversity in TUSD's advanced classes.
    FacebookA change in how gifted students are placed could add diversity in TUSD's advanced classes.

The Tucson Unified School District Governing Board will vote on a plan to change the way it tests for admission into its gifted programs, hoping to fill advanced classes with a more diverse group of students.

The district has been using "national norms" to select students for its Gifted and Talented Education classes but that has led to classes that are largely white kids. The new plan is to use "local norms," grading students on a district-wide curve.

According to a district presentation prepared for a Tuesday meeting, the idea is to broaden representation in the GATE courses.

"Achieving this will improve equity of access to GATE programs for the subgroups who are currently underrepresented among GATE qualifiers: African American, Hispanic, Native American, (experimental education and English Language Learners) and low-income students."

Yeah, legislators: start your engines.

Any effort toward diversity has become a ripe target for the Republican Party, which is on an anti-"woke" bender. And the legislative majority has had historic issues with TUSD. So too does state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne, who fought to eliminate the district's Mexican American Studies program.

Seeking changes to testing to improve diversity seems right in Horne's wheelhouse.

See, they have problems with African Americans, Hispanics and tribal students benefiting from anything that smacks of social promotion. That's just for white kids with money. They've got no problem with what the Internet calls "nepo babies." It's America being great.

There's some nuance required here. One argument against using local norms for lower-achieving districts is that it can lead to some students being left out of programs when they should be included. That's not what TUSD is talking about though. The district is trying to identify its best students and that means comparing students to one another and not a national sample.

Plenty of school districts and most colleges decide who gets into courses like honors' programs based on how they do against one another. Any college grad ever bitch about being graded on a curve? 

Exposing a school districts best students to more challenging courses is a good thing. It's not a bad thing.

If they pass the courses, then what's the problem?

District parents apparently have none. The policy change has been posted online and no one said "boo." 

Cyber update

The district will also get an update on a recent cyberattack.

TUSD's computer networks got hacked on Jan. 30 by a ransomware virus. District representatives say their full authority over the system has been restored. 

Some teachers were not paid their full compensation if they had accrued overtime during the last pay period. TUSD administrators have vowed to resolve the problem.

A PowerPoint presentation provides a summary of the district's response but is short on details beyond that.

District employees also face higher health care premiums. The board is set to vote on a proposal to increase monthly deductions for health plans.

The range of the 2024 plans vary from $21.56 per month for an employee only with a high deductible plan and a $83.97 per month increase for a preferred provider family coverage option.

The old switcheroo and an 'I told you so'

The Amphitheater Unified School District Governing Board will get a second crack at a pair of policy changes first approved in September.

This is the sort of item that only a local government geek thinks is funny. 

Someone, it turns out, pulled an old switcheroo on the board.

In a particularly hateful act, the state Legislature decided to bar transgender students from women's athletics. The new law doesn't address an actual problem is interscholastic athletics but it does let kids who feel different and isolated know they are different and some people think they should be isolated. Since when is this the job of adults? Let alone state leaders?

But, yes, the most pressing issue facing the nation right now is preventing students with dead names from winning the 400 meter butterfly. 


The Arizona School Board Association takes these laws and turns them into policy templates so school districts can have a fast and simple way to conform to changing state law.

Amphi chose to go its own way and develop its own plan to do state-mandated homophobia (OK, this isn't really funny at all). However, during a meeting where a bunch of policy changes got approved en masse, the district accidentally adopted the ASBA template.

After discovering this mix-up, the district reviewed other policy changes and realized that the district staff also swapped out its policy changing graduation requirements with the School Board Association's. That change also conforms to a state law, which requires a full credit of physical education to graduate.

In September, districts across the state were racing to enact mass policy changes and I said it was a bad idea. Stuff like this can happen.

The Legislature deserves the bulk of the blame for 1) meddling in local control and 2) not giving school boards much time to turn their laws into district rules.

If the Legislature is looking for an actual problem to really fix, then they might want to get to work on properly funding special education. The Amphi board will get an update on special ed, and they will learn that each of these kids are underfunded by $5,600.

The district will also vote on spreading out state faculty bonuses to schools that qualify for the Pay for Performance plan. The idea is to reward schools for their accomplishment and enrollment. Four Amphi schools qualify and educators who work there will receive the following maximum bonus: Harelson Elementary School, $1,624.01, Innovation Academy, $1,457.07; Painted Sky Elementary School, $1,302.16; and Rio Vista Elementary School, $1,089.25

A committee of teachers and administrators decided to split the bonus money so that 60 percent will go to payments and 40 percent will be available to help teachers pay for things like classroom supplies.

Oh yeah. If the Legislature wants to work on another actual problem facing state schools, they might want to address school funding and why teachers have to pay for their own classroom supplies.

I know. How woke of me.

Dietary supplements

More policy changes are on the way for Catalina Foothills Unified School District Governing Board, which will take up freedom of information and student dietary needs.

The district will no longer promise to accommodate all children's particular dietary requirements. It will now do its best to meet those needs.

Superintendent Mary Kamerzell wrote in a memo that too many students are developing food allergies for the district to address each one. I get it. I just don't know how this will go over.

And what's up with all the food allergies?

The district will also update two public information policies. 

One is pretty strange. 

The only two changes are in the first policy is to strike the word "active" as a modifier for public participation. The other strikes "as speedily as possible" in fulfilling public information requests and replaces it with "as efficiently as circumstances permit."


The second policy change makes the superintendent the primary contact for all public records requests and establishes that Kamerzell's office shall respond to requests in five days. 

Responding and fulfilling are two different things. "We'll get to it when we get to it" is still a response. 

With a few narrow exceptions, information and documents in the possession of a governing agency belongs to every single member of the public. It's your right to access that information, I don't care if you are a MAGA knuckle-dragger or a wokester hunting racists on Twitter. It's your information.

Override on the way?

Voters in the Flowing Wells Unified School District may be asked to vote on another override in the near future.

Right now the particulars are speculative but the Governing Board will get a rundown of options for a future election to spend more than state law allows in ordinary circumstances. 

The board isn't being asked to take any action but this is how things like override elections start. 

"Hey, let's talk about it and here are some options and this is what we can do with the money."

More to the point, the board will undoubtedly get a warning about what happens if the current override is allowed to expire without another to follow.

Over in Vail, the school district will hand out its own bonuses based on an elaborate system of rewards and incentives.

It's typical of the Vail Unified School District in the glow/aftermath of former Superintendent Calvin Baker. They got all sorts of innovation going on, including teacher pay.

The incentive plans to reward employees for things like home visits, taking on leadership roles and seeking out their own professional training.

Teachers can get as little as $350 as a math coach or $2,500 for English Language Learning site lead at a school with a kindergarten.

Did you catch the price of asphalt?

In Oro Valley, the Town Council will get the lowdown on why two roadwork projects are projected to cost far more than was originally budgeted.

A resurfacing project on North La Canada Road was originally estimated at $712,000 and the low bid came in at $920,000, while road work on Westward Look Drive that was projected to cost $589,000 but will now run at least $726,000. 

Asphalt costs have increased from $120 per ton when the projects were originally priced out to $200 per ton now that the town is putting the projects out to bid.

The staff is asking the council to tack on $315,211 to the price of these deals to account for rising costs and unforeseen problems. The money will come out of a capital projects contingency fund.

Oro Valley is luckily sitting on a mountain of what accountants call "fund balances" and the rest of us call "cash we've saved up."

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist, who worked in daily journalism for nearly 20 years and is the former communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party.

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