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Fisher v. Tucson Unified School District

United States District Court, D. Arizona

December 27, 2016

Roy and Josie Fisher, et al., Plaintiffs and United States of America, Plaintiff-Intervenor,
v.
Tucson Unified School District, et al., Defendants, and Sidney L. Sutton, et al., Defendants-Intervenors, Maria Mendoza, et al., Plaintiffs, and United States of America, Plaintiff-Intervenor,
v.
Tucson Unified School District, et al. Defendants.

          ORDER

          Honorable David C. Bury United States District Judge

         SY 2016-2017 USP Budget: Approved, Pursuant to Report and Recommendation

         On July 12, 2016, the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD or the District) Governing Board approved the District's 2016-17 School Year (SY) budget, including the Unitary Status Plan (USP) budget. TUSD failed to file the 2016-2017 USP Budget with the Court for approval, therefore, on July 22, 2016, the Mendoza Plaintiffs filed it attached as an exhibit to their Objections. On August 8, 2016, TUSD responded to the Mendoza Plaintiffs' objections. On August 22, 2016, the Special Master filed a Report and Recommendation (R&R), (Doc 1954), which he supplemented on August 31, 2016, (Doc. 1955). On September 21, 2016, TUSD filed a Response and Limited Objection to the Special Master's R&R, which in large part reflects that on September 1, 2016, the District agreed to follow many of the Special Master's recommendations and “no order is needed.” (Response (Doc. 1957) at 7-10.)

         The Court does not agree that an Order is “not needed.” First, the Plaintiffs and the Special Master complain that TUSD failed to comply with review and comment procedures especially designed for the 2016-2017 budget process. TUSD disagrees and complains that review requests made by the Plaintiffs and the Special Master are too burdensome. In the case of the budget process, the District reports it “is already working with the Special Master to finalize the process for the budget for the 17-18 school year.” It has submitted, and he has commented on, a proposed timeline and process for the development of the SY 2017-2018 Unitary Status Plan (USP) Budget, and the parties are scheduling meetings to work collaboratively to finalize a draft budget process proposal for the upcoming year. This is a repeat performance of what happened last year in respect to the parties' inability to work cooperatively in preparing the 2015-16 USP budget and what happened in SY 2014-2015. In the hope of breaking this dysfunctional cycle, the Court orders the parties to file the 2017-2018 budget process procedures with the Court. The procedures shall include the review demands of the Plaintiffs and the Special Master for both subject matter and format for TUSD's presentation of budgetary information to them. The requested budget disclosures should not be burdensome. The procedures shall include specific review benchmarks and a timeline for development, review and comment prior to submittal of the budget to the Governing Board for adoption and a date for TUSD to file the adopted budget with the Court. TUSD shall file with the Court a Notice of Disclosure and/or Compliance within 5 days of each benchmark deadline, or explain any failures to comply.

         The Special Master's second recommendation pertains to the Comprehensive Magnet Plan (CMP), which is one of the keystones in the Unitary Status Plan aimed at integration. The Special Master made recommendations that the District should eliminate funding for noncertified personnel to serve in the capacity of support staff to students who are struggling academically and should modify allocations for technology already addressed by reallocation of unspent funds in 2015-2016. He complained that TUSD should be required to maintain academic goals for magnet schools that are at least as high as those they have recently achieved. He also asked that TUSD consider increasing support for administration of the magnet programs. Here, “no order is needed” because TUSD has agreed to do these things.

         The Court notes the eleventh-hour agreement from TUSD and that TUSD's plan to have a single person serve as Magnet Director and ALE Coordinator means that these two very important administrative positions remain understaffed and/or unfilled approximately five-school years after the adoption in SY 2012-2013 of the USP. Like the CMP, the ALE (Advanced Learning Experience) component to the USP is critical to its success because it is a key mechanism for ensuring equal educational opportunities to all students in the District. The Court awaits the Special Master's R&R on the ALE program, which will also examine in detail the AP courses being offered district-wide. See eg., (Mendoza Objection (Doc. 1948) at 16-17.) As the Special Master notes, it is not enough that there is a net increase in AP classes, especially when two-thirds of them are at University High School where most academic courses are offered as AP courses. (R&R (Doc. 1955)).[1] The Special Master's ALE R&R is due once comprehensive data can be compiled for the 2015-2016 SY. The Court anticipates it will be forthcoming shortly. His annual report is due December 15, 2016.

         Because “no order is needed” regarding the remainder of the Special Master's recommendations for the 2016-2017 USP Budget, the Court addresses his recommendations in the context of directives for the 2017-2018 USP Budget as it relates to ensuring robust efforts by TUSD in respect to developing and maintaining a disciplinary scheme to satisfy the USP and professional development and support plans to ensure the longevity of improvements attained under the USP. In the end, TUSD must demonstrate a good faith commitment to maintaining a non-discriminatory system. “‘The good faith component requires TUSD to show past good faith compliance and a good faith commitment to the future operation of the school system, which can be shown through specific policies, decisions, and courses of action that extend into the future.'” (Order (Doc. 1270) at 55.) With this in mind, the Court turns to the remainder of the Special Master's recommendations.

         He accuses TUSD of underfunding USP provisions that call for the development and implementation of teacher-mentors. He raised a similar concern when he questioned whether TUSD has developed a rationally based ratio in its Intervention Plan for hiring itinerant mentors for Culturally Relevant Course (CRC) teachers. (R&R (Doc. 1941)).

         The USP § IV, Administrators and Certificated Staff, addresses teacher recruitment, development, and retention aimed at enhancing the racial and ethnic diversity of this staff and ensuring an excellent teacher-pool, well versed in teaching strategies to engage students using culturally responsive pedagogy. The Special Master complains that TUSD has consolidated expenditures related to two distinct sections of the USP-“the provisions for supporting first and second year teachers and the provision for supporting first-year teachers assigned to schools where students are underperforming.” (R&R (Doc. 1954) at 8.)

         When the USP was adopted, TUSD had a New Teacher Induction Program (NTIP) which the USP § IV.I.1 required TUSD to expressly amend to provide teachers in their first two years of teaching with the foundation to become effective educators by, at a minimum: “(a) build beginning teachers' capacity to be reflective and collaborative members of their professional learning communities . . .; and (b) engage thoughtfully with students from diverse racial, ethnic, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds using culturally responsive pedagogy. The District shall hire or designate an appropriate number of New Teacher Mentors based on the best practices for such mentoring/coaching in the field. These Mentors shall not have direct teaching assignments.”

         Differently, the USP § IV.E required TUSD to make efforts to increase the number of experienced teachers and reduce the number of beginning teachers hired to teach in racially concentrated schools or schools in which students are underachieving academically. Based on the Special Master's comments, it appears that beginning teachers continue to be hired to teach in both. Assuming such staffing is a matter of necessity, [2] the need for mentors at these schools by these beginning teachers will be greater than those needed by first and second year teachers at other TUSD schools. (R&R (Doc. 1954) at 8-9.)

         Therefore, while the key to the success for all new teachers is the number of and quality of mentors, (R&R (Doc. 1954) at 8), according to the Special Master the ratio is not the same for all new teachers. More mentoring is needed when new teachers are hired at racially concentrated schools or schools where students are underperforming. The Special Master challenges TUSD's use of the ratio of one mentor to fifteen teachers. First, he points out that TUSD adopts this ratio for its beginning teachers based on studies of peer assistance and review (PAR) programs, which are generally designed for programs working with experienced teachers. He especially questions it in the context of mentoring new teachers at racially concentrated schools and where students are underperforming.

         Like he did in his R&R on itinerant mentors for CRC teachers, the Special Master seeks some rationale for the number of mentors reflected in the 2016-2017 USP budget for new teachers. The Court agrees. At this stage in the USP, TUSD should be able to do better than guesstimating. Using teacher-mentors is not new to TUSD; NTIP existed even prior to the adoption of the USP. By the time the SY budget is being prepared, TUSD has a fairly clear picture of how many new teachers fall or will fall within the two-year window requiring mentors and who will be teaching in racially concentrated schools or schools where students are performing below the District average. According to the Special Master, two different ratios should be developed and, accordingly, applied. These are the number of mentors needed. Whether these needs can be met due to other constraints is a different question, but the number of mentors needed in each budget year is a formalistic reckoning.

         It is imperative that TUSD develop meaningful mentor-teacher ratios for first and second year teachers who teach in racially concentrated schools and schools where student performance is below the District average and for beginning teachers at all other TUSD schools. These ratios shall be developed and used for the 2017-2018 USP Budget. The Special Master shall review the ratios to ensure full compliance with the provisions in the USP § IV requiring mentors for beginning teachers. The Special Master shall develop a data gathering and review plan, both substantive and procedural, to enable him to monitor the effectiveness of TUSD's beginning teacher mentoring plans for use in the 2016-2017 SMAR. If the development of mentor ratios ...


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