TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Seven candidates are competing for three open slots on the TUSD board. The top three vote-getters will win.
They are vying for a chance to lead the largest school district in southern Arizona, but it's a district with a number of difficult challenges.
Three candidates are on the board now hoping for another four-year term. Four others are challengers.
At TUSD enrollment has been a concern, along with student achievement, discipline, and the effort to satisfy a more than 40-year-old desegregation lawsuit that has kept the district under Federal court supervision.
Four challengers are competing with three incumbents for three seats on the board.
Challenger Betts Putnam Hidalgo says she's been attending board meetings for six years since she headed off an effort to close her son's school and says that's a lot of time watching board members fail to supervise the superintendent.
She says, "This board is the worst I've ever seen. They have really, really drunk the superintendent's Kool-Aid and they spend more time giving him accolades in the board meetings than watching his work carefully."
Brett Rustand is an insurance executive who spent 10 years as an Army officer. He says his leadership experience can help a school board often rapped for conflict, lack of transparency and lack of public trust.
"And that's something that needs to be repaired and it's going to take awhile to be repaired. We have to start that process by opening everything up, being completely transparent and making sure everyone knows what we're focused on. Prioritizing on the kids, the parents and the principals and being a conduit for money and support for them."
Lori Riegel points to 25 years as a professional educator in Jewish education, and her time with TUSD's technology oversight committee. She says she worked as a substitute teacher to learn more about TUSD schools. Riegel thinks board members need to be more open about district business. She says board members recently approved millions in contracts without discussion.
“Out of those 45 items on the one consent agenda with the yes-no vote, 38 of them had financial implications and just one of those items had 40 contracts to the tune of 52 million dollars."
Rachael Sedgwick says she's taught in many places and now's she's a third-year law student. Like the other candidates, she wants the board to be more transparent, and less prone to arguments among board members.
“I'm a good mediator. I'm a good collaborator and I'm willing to work with people especially those people that I don't agree with. In fact, I enjoy it because it's challenging, it's more interesting, exciting and I get to learn more in the process."
The current TUSD board has developed a reputation for tense and testy meetings, with Mark Stegeman and Michael Hicks often allied on issues, but at odds with the board majority of Adelita Grijalva, Kristel Foster and Cam Juarez.
Now Stegeman, Foster and Juarez are running for re-election.
Foster hopes voters will keep the current majority intact. To finish with issues like the long-standing desegregation lawsuit.
"I hope we can keep our board intact, keep our superintendent intact so we can finish the desegregation plan. We were ready to go for unitary status, partial in the spring, and then full unitary status, next fall. We know we have discipline issues. We've invested in training and let's not change right now when we've just started that work and we want to complete, complete that vision."
Mark Stegeman says the board has spent too much time on items that may be nice, but non-essential like more solar power or what's called family engagement centers.
"I would throw out the strategic plan or throw out a good part of it and come up with something much shorter. It's a horribly long, complex document. I say, what are we doing? We're doing student achievement and this is how we're going to measure it, and school climate, this is how we're gonna measure it. We're getting more money in the classroom, this is how we're gonna measure it and have a short document with measurable outcomes that everyone can understand."
Board member Cam Juarez says with a second grader in a TUSD school, he has an extra stake in the district and he feels he has helped stabilize TUSD.
"So what we've got to do is make sure we're focusing on our students, focusing on completing the unitary status plan and addressing the five-year plan because that is addressing a lot of the issues beyond our Latino and African American students. So we want to make sure we're investing in all of our students, all of them, including our special education students, our ELL students, our athletes, our creative students. We've got to be sure we're addressing all those needs and the needs of our teachers and our employees in this district."