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Sanchez: Morlock miscalculates on TUSD audit

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Sanchez: Morlock miscalculates on TUSD audit

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In a column for earlier this month, Blake Morlock said he hates math sometimes. At Tucson Unified, we love it for many reasons. One: We know math is essential to a good education. Two: At the district level, we are continually crunching numbers to make the most of the dwindling dollars we are allocated to provide the best possible education to our students.

The Arizona Auditor General released its annual school district spending report on March 1. The report analyzes classroom and non-classroom spending on a state and district level. As Morlock pointed out, the report shows that Arizona is among the worst in the country in terms of classroom spending, as defined by the state.

Morlock suggests that one way to fix that is to increase teacher salaries. We couldn’t agree more. Here at Tucson Unified, we are doing the math and are working to build upon the raises we have given in the past two years. Our goal is to pay teachers the highest wages in Southern Arizona.

I do want to point out that the Auditor General’s report found that classroom spending at Tucson Unified held steady at 48.7 percent for the first time since 2012 despite another round of state cuts. We did this by shifting more than $3.2 million from non-instructional budgets to classrooms. Our classroom spending is still lower than the 56.6 percent peer average, and many factors that are unique to Tucson Unified come into play.

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Morlock mentioned some of those factors in his column. Among those are transportation costs, support for under-enrolled schools, and the desegregation order we are under. He points out that Tucson Unified spends more than its peers in some of these areas, and he is right.

We are court-ordered to provide incentive transportation to children whose school choices promote integration. In total, we have 322 buses that drive 4.6 million miles a year.

We have mandated central-office positions other schools don’t because of the desegregation order. These include Culturally Relevant Curriculum director, Multi-Cultural Curriculum director, Magnet School director, Advanced Learning Experiences director, Diversity Retention and Recruitment director, Mexican American Student Services director, and African American Student Services director. Each of these positions is cited in the district's desegregation court order.

We do have schools that are under-enrolled. But as Morlock pointed out, they have tremendous community support, and they serve not only the students but are vital contributors to their neighborhoods. One of my goals since my arrival here in 2013 was to sell or repurpose the schools that had been closed in years prior. This goal is nearly complete.

As superintendent of the district, I make decisions based on what is best for students, our employees and the community in general. Sometimes those decisions don’t look great on paper or when analyzed from the outside. Keeping schools open is one example. Another would be decisions about staffing. Some of our high schools don’t have the enrollment numbers to justify, on paper, having assistant principals. But we know that for the well-being of our students, those schools need additional support. In those cases, the administrator-to-pupil ratio might not look good from the outside looking in. But from the inside looking in, those decisions look great—and essential.

I’d like to address one statement Morlock made in his column head-on. He said Tucson Unified “looks like they are trying to defend the idea that change is dangerous.” He should take a closer look at what we are doing in the district. He’ll find that we do not fear change, we embrace it. We make it happen.

Our Five-Year Strategic Plan contains 125 goals in five areas: Facilities, finance, curriculum, diversity and communication. We hit all of our goals from Year 1 and are well into Year 2, and the changes we’ve made are far too many to list. But here are a few:

  • Expanded green power initiatives that have saved millions in energy costs and made us a green-power leader in the nation
  • Implemented a new budgeting/finance software system that allows us to better track funds and report to the community
  • Purchased and are installing a new Student Information System to replace outdated, patchwork system
  • Sold or repurposed 18 closed school buildings
  • Created and implemented a district-wide curriculum and continue to adjust and revise as we get feedback from teachers
  • Expanded GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) and ALE (Advanced Learning Experiences) opportunities for students of all ethnicities
  • Expanded and improved our weekly newsletter, social media presence outreach to schools and relationships with media (including
  • Created a Governing Board meeting space that accommodates larger crowds
  • Halted a hiring process that included mass layoffs and rehiring

Change takes an extraordinary amount of work, and it takes a team with a commitment to the district and to the community. We are that team. We are Tucson Unified, where students love to learn, teachers love to teach, and people love to work.

And we also love math.

H.T. Sanchez is superintendent of the Tucson United School District.

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