TUSD shakeup: What could it mean for Ethnic Studies?
Did the new board member shift the balance of power to members who want to change or abolish the program? Video by kgun9.comvideo
New board member Dr. Alexandre Sugiyama voted with board members Mike Hicks and Mark Stegeman to return Stegeman to the TUSD Presidency the board removed him from in August. Dr. Sugiyama says he hasn't decided what to do about Ethnic Studies but would have a hard time supporting a program in conflict with state law.
Reporter: Craig Smith
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Tuesday night's leadership shakeup at TUSD could signal a real change in direction in the district's fight with the state over TUSD's controversial ethnic studies program....and may signal whether the district will stop fighting altogether.
At that board meeting, in just a few minutes, we saw a new member take over for Judy Burns, who died in office, and we saw him join an alliance that put a controversial board member back in the President's chair. The changes raise the prospect of a real change in the district's stance on ethnic studies.
In late December a judge backed state superintendent John Huppenthal's ruling that TUSD's Mexican American Studies program breaks state law because, he claims it promotes resentment toward whites and is designed for students of one race. As a penalty, he can cut millions in state funds to the district.
In May, Ethnic Studies supporters chained themselves in the board room when TUSD President Mark Stegeman suggested changing the program to comply with the law.
In August the board replaced Stegeman as President.
Longtime board member Judy Burns was a strong defender of the program, and behind bouncing Stegeman as President.
Tuesday, Alexandre Sugiyama took the seat vacant since Burns death in October. In roughly an hour he was the swing vote to put restore Stegeman as President. Soon after, he was asked if he supports leaving Mexican American Studies unchanged.
He said, "It is hard to support something that the State has considered is in violation of the law; and just having to swear an oath to support the State Law that's a very difficult position to be in."
County School Superintendent Linda Arzoumanian appointed Sugiyama based on committee recommendations.
KGUN9 reporter Craig Smith asked her: "How important was the whole Ethnic Studies controversy in your consideration?
Arzoumanian: "I don't believe it was part of the consideration. They had the one rule: no single issue candidates; and so we had no discussion. There was no question asked about it."
But Richard Martinez, the attorney representing Ethnic Studies teachers fighting to preserve Ethnic Studies, sees a power shift towards surrendering to the state over ethnic studies.
"It appears to be a three-two swing that one, there will be no appeal by TUSD and two, that there will be a three-two vote to end the Mexican American Studies program."
Doctor Sugiyama has said he hasn't made a firm decision on what he wants to do regarding Ethnic Studies though he did describe how much weight he gives to abiding by the law the program conflicts with.
Dr. Sugiyama and Dr. Stegeman both teach economics at the U of A. Stegeman says he did not urge Sugiyama to try for an appointment to the board.
He says Dr. Sugiyama had expressed an interest without any prompting from him. Dr. Sugiyama says he was interested even before Judy Burns' death created a vacancy.