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Candidate commentary

Grivois-Shah: TUSD needs improved financial stewardship to succeed

The reality of school finances is hard to understand unless you're experiencing it on a personal level. For example, I would have had a hard time believing that — given the Tucson Unified School District's more-than $500 million budget — schools run out of money for basic supplies they need to function. That was before I was cutting checks for toilet paper as the treasurer of my daughter's PTA.

When I volunteered two years ago to serve as a parent member of the TUSD Audit Committee, I entered a whole new world of school finance. Most of the other members are accountants, and monthly meetings are attended by our district's attorney, finance team leadership, our Governing Board liaison, and others. Sometimes there are members of the public as TUSD Audit Committee meetings are subject to open meeting law requirements.

I've learned a lot about our district during the last two years as a member of our Audit Committee. The numbered codes that categorizes every expense made by TUSD. How grant cycles and property taxes infusions affect cash flows. The role of county government in our budget and finances. Ratios of students to funding for custodial supplies, social workers, and assistant principals.

I've also experienced a lot of frustration trying to better understand how our district spends money. There are times when I felt that 2+2 on one page didn't equal 4 on a corresponding page and didn't feel I received a response as to why that I (or others on the committee) truly understood.

Having a vast amount of information that meets accounting requirements but doesn't actually help us manage the district creates an inability to answer important questions easily on how we fund programs at this school or services at another.

What needs to change

We need TUSD's budget and financial information to be accessible, understandable, and usable. Half a billion dollars can be daunting. It doesn't need to be. There are best practices throughout our nation, and — a surprising fun fact that I learn on the Audit Committee — even awards for school districts for their budgeting and financial management. We need to adopt a better system, better content, and better presentation so TUSD's financial information makes sense to those who aren't accountants.

We need to be able to answer detailed questions about our district in just a few clicks. What is the total spending for music and arts for students at Lineweaver compared to Grijalva Elementary School? How much did we spend to clean and sanitize our high schools before COVID-19? Our Audit Committee has met this year with a number of consultants and web-based platforms that change how school districts display financial data. I don't think any of these questions are any easier to answer through these platforms. We need to invest in a system that provides detailed financial data so that we can truly understand how TUSD spends money.

Why this is important

So the board can make informed decisions and set priorities. The TUSD Governing Board is charged with making so many important decisions that affect academic opportunity, programming, and services that our students receive. The board needs to access usable and immediately available financial data to help guide prompt and effective decisions.

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So the public can hold TUSD accountable. A common theme I hear from parents and the Tucson community at large is a lack of trust in our district. One important change that will help improve trust in TUSD will be to ensure financial transparency and accountability so that Tucsonans know how the district spends money and how TUSD uses its half-billion-dollar budget to create academic opportunities, programs, and services for our students.

Dr. Ravi Grivois-Shah, a candidate for the TUSD Governing Board, is a TUSD parent, member of the TUSD Audit Committee, and family physician.

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1 comment on this story

Sep 2, 2020, 12:37 pm
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Ravi is absolutely correct about TUSD’s finances.

The current Board doesn’t pay attention. Board meeting are much shorter now, because they don’t pay attention and ask very few questions. Their votes are 5-0 regardless of what’s proposed.

For example, at the last Board meeting, the Board approved a $30,000 stipend for a guy who already makes $99,649! He’ll be making as much or even more than the assistant superintendents make. For what? The Board also approved $8,000 stipends for two highly paid directors. That is nauseating.

One of the following agenda items was about a $50,000 grant the presenter said TUSD desperately needed. TUSD couldn’t have been too desperate. It had just awarded $46,000 to three highly paid employees for WHAT?

TUSD desperately needs new Board members who will pay attention and won’t tolerate wasting money the schools need.

Ravi Grivois-Shah and Sadie Shaw are two excellent candidates who’ll pay attention and ask questions. They’re parents who’re convinced TUSD has to do much better.

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Ravi Grivois-Shah