Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Fisher v. Tucson Unified School District

United States District Court, D. Arizona

November 7, 2017

Roy and Josie Fisher, et al., Plaintiffs
v.
Tucson Unified School District, et al., Defendants, and United States of America, Plaintiff-Intervenor, 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

          HON. DAVID C. BURY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Report and Recommendation (R&R) Re: SY 2017-18 USP (910G) Budget: Adopted.

         On June 28, 2017, the District filed the SY 2017-18 USP (910G) Budget, adopted by the School Board on the 27th, after an eight-month budget process which included review and comment from the Plaintiffs and Special Master. In July, both Plaintiffs filed Objections. (Fisher Objection (Doc. 2032); Mendoza Objection (Doc. 2038)). The Special Master filed a Report and Recommendation (R&R) on September 8, 2017. (Doc. 2070.)[1] The District filed a Response and Limited Objection to the R&R. (Doc. 2072.) The Mendoza Plaintiffs filed a Response to the District and Limited Objection to the R&R. (Doc. 2074.)

         The Special Master prepared the R&R, relying on what he described as an “admonition, ” which was made by this Court last year when it approved the 2016-17 USP Budget: “In the last years of judicial oversight the Court finds that it is important for the District to act on its own accord and to be accordingly held responsible.” (Order (Doc. 1981) at 9.) To be clear, this is not a “hands off” admonition. To the contrary, the Court reminds the parties that the Unitary Status Plan (USP) was designed as a road map for attaining unitary status in approximately three years. The Order appointing the Special Master expressly provided that the USP should lead “to unitary status after three full school years from adoption of the USP, subject to annual extensions by the Court for reason of unattained compliance by the District with the USP.” (Order (Doc. 1350) at 6 ¶ 7.) The USP, adopted as revised, was filed on February 20, 2013. (Doc. 1450); (Doc. 1713) (correcting typographical errors).

         The Court affirms the January 6, 2012, Order, paragraph 7, directive that annual extensions of judicial oversite beyond three years will be based on reasons of unattained compliance by the District with the USP. Three years out, the Court is taking an inventory of the District's progress towards unitary status. The District has filed the 2016-17 DAR, (Docs. 2057-2068), and the corresponding Report on Analysis of Compliance with the USP, (Doc. 2075) (2016-17 USP Compliance Report). The Special Master's mirror SMAR is due at the end of December.

         Going forward, the Special Master must identify specific non-compliance issues; identify specific activities necessary for compliance, and specific deadlines for the District to complete such activities. Deadlines will be limited to the extent possible to maintain the integrity of the USP's design to attain unitary status in approximately three years.

         The SY 2016-2017 review is the first comprehensive analysis of the District's accountability for behavior and processes taken pursuant to the USP. The roll of the Special Master in assessing accountability is of course not “hands off, ” it is the exact opposite. (Order (Doc. 1350) at 7-9); (USP (Doc. 1713) at § X.D), see also (Order (Doc. 1981) at 11) (authorizing Special Master to advise the Court regarding any procedural changes necessary for him to carry out general oversight and monitoring responsibilities, pursuant to USP § I.D, undertaken in the context of compliance assessments, and authorizing him to establish the data needs, both substantive and format, for compliance review).

         With the current posture of the case clearly in mind, the Court turns to the SY 2017-18 USP Budget and the Special Master's R&R. Money is where the rubber meets the road, and this cuts in favor of holding the District accountable for funding programs and activities at levels rationally related to compliance demands under the USP. On the other hand, the 2017-18 USP Budget was adopted without the benefit of the SY 2016-17 unitary status review that is currently underway. Therefore, this Court, like the Special Master, has taken a conservative approach to recommendations that require District action. All such recommendations are linked to implementation or operation of programs required by provisions adopted in the USP, any USP Action Plan, or any other action either required by an order of the Court or a stipulation and/or agreement between the District and the Plaintiffs and the Special Master. The District is responsible in the first instance for reviewing program effectiveness and where justified making changes, but it must nevertheless persuade the Special Master, the parties, and ultimately the Court, that any such changes were made in good faith by the District in compliance with the USP.

         With these distinctions in mind, the Court turns to the limited objections to the R&R filed by the District. Generally, the District agreed to all of the Special Master's recommendations, but some agreements were qualifiedly limited to agreeing to changes without agreeing to the Special Master's underlying legal or factual premises for recommending those changes. The following recommendations were disputed in part by the District: 1) Criteria for Determining Mentor Support for First and Second Year Teachers and for Teachers of Culturally Relevant Courses (CRC)); 2) Higher Ground; 3) Effective Practices File for Discipline, and 4) Family Engagement. Following the District's Response and Limited Objections, the Mendoza Plaintiffs responded and added objections related to: 5) Student Success Specialists and 6) Goals for Magnet Schools. The Court adopts the recommendations of the Special Master as agreed to by the District, and addresses the remaining partially disputed budgetary issues below.

         1) Criteria for Determining Mentor Support for First and Second Year Teachers and for Teachers of Culturally Relevant Courses (CRC)):

The District operates two teacher-mentoring programs: 1) to mentor new teachers the first two years they teach to ensure they become effective educators, USP § IV.I.1, and 2) a peer-mentoring program developed within-and across-school networks designed to encourage teachers with experience and success in using culturally responsive pedagogy to mentor their peer teachers, USP § IV.I.4, J.3.b, J.6. In 2016, this Court ordered the District, with oversight from the Special Master, to develop teacher-mentor ratios to use for budgetary purposes so that once the District identifies teachers needing mentoring in a school year, it can meaningfully budget for the corresponding number of mentors needed that year. (Order (Doc. 1981) at 11.)

         The Court finds these two mentoring programs have distinct goals, and the new first and second year teacher-mentors do not have direct teaching assignments, USP § IV.I.1, while the CRC mentors are peer teachers, id. at 4. The teacher-mentor ratios should be logically consistent, (R&R (Doc. 2070) at 3), but the ratios must also be logically consistent with the distinct program goals. Therefore, the Court looks at each teacher-mentoring program and proposed ratios, separately.

         A. First and Second Year Teachers

         Section IV.I.1 of the USP requires the District to provide teacher-mentors to new teachers in their first two years of teaching, and is now being used to address Section IV.E.5, which expressly requires 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.”[2] “Based on the Special Master's comments, it appears that beginning teachers continue to be hired to teach in both. Assuming hiring new first and second year teachers at these schools is a matter of necessity, [due to a shortage of experienced teacher candidates], the need, pursuant to § IV.E.5, for mentors at these schools for these beginning teachers will be greater than those needed by first and second year teachers at other TUSD schools.” (Order (Doc. 1981) (citing R&R (Doc. 1954) at 8-9.)

         The District proposes a 1:15 point ratio system: 3 points for first-year teachers and 2 points for second-year teachers at “underperforming[3] or racially concentrated schools”; 2 points for first-year teachers and 1 point for second-year teachers at performing or non-racially concentrate schools.[4] Under this point system, mentor-teacher ratios may be as low as 1:5 or as high as 1:15. For example, if there are 5 first-year teachers to be employed in SY 2017-2018 to teach at under-achieving or racially concentrated schools, then the 3 point ratio is applied per new teacher for a total of 15 points so the District needs to hire 1 teacher-mentor for these five new teachers. Compare, if fifteen first-year teachers are to be teaching at other schools, then the 2 points per teacher totals to 30 points, and the District would need only two teacher-mentors for these 15 new teachers.

         The R&R does not explain the basis for the District's proposed 1:15 point system. Nevertheless, because the Special Master recommends its adoption, the Court assumes it is rationally based on the District's past experience with teacher-mentor programs and/or based on best practices. The Special Master recommends the Court adopt the District's proposed 1:15 ratio, with two exceptions.

         As he did in 2016, the Special Master reiterates that new teachers teaching underachieving students “face exceptional challenges.” (R&R (Doc. 2070) at 4.) He recommends that these new first-year teachers need more support and proposes a teacher-mentor ratio of 1:10. (R&R (Doc. 2070) at 4), see also, USP § IV.E.6 (calling for a “pilot plan to support first-year teachers serving in schools where student achievement is below the District average.)

         The Special Master clarifies that there is nothing about the racial concentration of a school that translates into a teaching challenge. (R&R (Doc. 2074) at 3.) Given the negative optics, he recommends that the District exclude new teachers at high-achieving schools from the 3-point ratio for first and second year teachers at underperforming and racially concentrated schools.

         The District neither agrees nor objects to these recommendations. Because the issue has consumed substantial time and remains unresolved the Mendoza Plaintiffs, while disputing its rationale, are willing to accept the Special Master's recommendation regarding the District's proposed teacher-mentor ratios, with one exception. They object to his exclusion of “high-achieving” racially concentrated schools from the District's proposed ratios for first and second year teachers at “underperforming or racially concentrated schools. (Mendoza Plaintiffs' Objection to R&R (Doc. 2074) at 3.)

         The Mendoza Plaintiffs object to the Special Master's recommendation for a “high achieving” racially concentrated school exclusion. First, they note that the Special Master does not define what would be considered a “high-achieving” school, but the Court assumes it to be the opposite of “schools in which students are underachieving academically.” USP § IV.E.5. The Court agrees with the Mendoza Plaintiffs' objection to the high-achieving school exclusion because the USP expressly requires the District 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. USP § IV.E.5.

         The requirement to place experienced teachers at racially concentrated schools is not due to any difficulty associated with teaching minority students; [t]he District was attempting to improve quality of instruction and academic achievement at those schools . . . to increase the likelihood that those schools would attract students of other races/ethnicities to attend those schools and bring them closer to being integrated. (Mendoza Objection to Budget (Doc. 2038) at 19 (citing Order (Doc. 1996) discussing transition plans and need to focus on improving academic achievement as one effective means of promoting integration). “Because ‘the most powerful school-based influence on student learning is teacher effectiveness, ' (R&R (Doc. 1954) at 10), professional development and professional support ensures that TUSD will be able to develop and retain strong teachers capable of carrying out the mandates of the USP.” (Order (Doc. 1981) at 7.) Regardless of optics, the Court finds that the District's formula is responsive to the express provision in the USP which requires it to increase the number of experienced teachers at racially concentrated schools, especially given that teacher shortages preclude the District from directly hiring more experienced teachers to teach at these schools.

         Accordingly, the Court adopts the Special Master's recommendation to approve the District's proposed teacher-mentor 1:15 point ratio, except for first-year teachers teaching at underperforming/underachieving schools. There, the Court adopts the Special Master's recommendation for a 1:10 teacher-mentor ratio. The District should amend its formula and budget.

         B. Teachers of Culturally Relevant Courses

         In considering the CRC peer-mentoring program, USP § IV.I, the Court looks to the Stipulation Re: Implementation of USP Section V.E.6.a.ii: Culturally Relevant Courses, filed with the Court on January 30, 2015. (Doc. 1761.) It provides: “A designated cadre of experienced CR teachers shall serve as Peer Mentors and assist the Program Coordinators in modeling effective CR instruction and in developing additional CR unit lessons, (Implementation of USP Section V.E.6.a.ii: CRC Intervention Plan at 2); (2015 Intervention Plan (Doc. 1761) at 5, ECF[5]17), and “[n]ew CR teachers will receive support from the CRP team as well as from CR mentor teachers. . . . A mentor teacher will be assigned to any new site where no CR class offerings previously existed. The mentor teacher will make contact with new CR teachers once a week, ” (Implementation of CRC Intervention Plan at 6). The Stipulation, 2015 Intervention Plan, required the cadre of experienced CR teachers and district staff to work on curricular and programmatic alignment in the summer in preparation of SY 2015-16, and for Mentor/Itinerant Teachers to develop extensive curricular units for the middle and high school level. (2015 Intervention Plan at 6, ECF22.) It called for a mentoring model “pairing an experienced and highly successful educator with a less experienced colleague. Mentors will be chosen based on their credibility among their colleagues and their ability to initiate curriculum and school change. This model will offer a high individualized approach to professional development and can benefit both of the individuals involved.” Id.

         The 2015 Intervention Plan called for the District to hire 12 Itinerant Teachers, with these teachers to teach three CR courses at two high or middle school sites, and to have non-instructional duties including: CR student and teacher recruitment; community outreach; model instruction for non-CR teacher and new CR teachers; curriculum development; observation, and conducting training symposiums. Id. at 18, ECF 34. This “Itinerant Teacher Model” was designed as a capacity building model and meant to be transitional, with the intent being to “develop CR Teachers at every site over the next two years and move away from having itinerant staff at this level.” Id. In other words, itinerant staff will be reduced over time. In the end, central staff will be responsible for program and curriculum development. Id. The Court assumes that, ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.