TUSD Accused of Trapping Employees in Public Sector Unions

TUSD Accused of Trapping Employees in Public Sector Unions

By Terri Jo Neff |

The Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) is violating state and federal law by making it too difficult for its employees to leave a labor union, according to a Jan. 18 letter sent to district officials by the Goldwater Institute. 

Parker Jackson, staff attorney with the Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation at the Goldwater Institute, advised TUSD Superintendent Dr. Gabriel Trujillo that a review of five collective bargaining agreements revealed “alarming restrictions” which infringe on the rights of district employees.

“We request that the District immediately act to bring these agreements and policies and practices made pursuant to them into compliance with federal and state law,” Jackson wrote to Trujillo and the district’s governing board. 

At issue are memoranda of understanding (MOU) which TUSD has entered into with four labor organizations: the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Local 449, AFL-CIO (“AFSCME”); the Communications Workers of America (“CWA”); Educational Leaders, Inc. (“ELI”); and the Tucson Education Association (“TEA”) with which there are two agreements.

TUSD employees may freely join a union at any time, but an employee covered by one of the five agreements must receive authorization from union bosses before district officials will process a request to resign from the union. This is unlawful, Jackson wrote, as it restricts when an employee may terminate their union membership and halt union dues deductions from their paychecks.

And then there is the issue of deduction revocation windows and/or deadlines which Jackson’s letter says do not comport with federal or state law. District policies and practices further exacerbate the unconstitutional activity.

For instance, the MOU with AFSCME—which Jackson calls “the worst of the five agreements”—restricts membership cancellation and dues deduction revocations to only two weeks per year, from May 1 to May 15. Similarly, the CWA agreement only permits cancellation of membership and dues deductions in July, while the other MOUs have comparable revocation restrictions.

This often results in an employee revoking their consent to union membership, only to have TUSD continue to deduct dues from each paycheck until the next opt-out period commences or the current membership year ends.

“This is not only unfair and predatory—it is also unconstitutional,” Jackson contends. “An employee revocation is obviously evidence that an employee does not affirmatively consent to pay union dues.”

Jackson’s letter to Trujillo cites Arizona’s Right to Work laws, the U.S. and Arizona constitutions, and various court cases in making its arguments.

“In order to prevent ongoing and future unconstitutional activity, the District must immediately revoke or revise any MOU provision that includes a union dues opt-out period and any requirement that a labor union must approve an employee’s request to stop the deduction of union dues,” Parker wrote. “The District must also revise any policy and procedure that imposes these unconstitutional conditions.”

The Goldwater Institute, which is dedicated to upholding the constitutional rights of all citizens, is a public policy and public interest litigation organization. It frequently initiates lawsuits when government entities do not voluntarily change conduct.

“The Goldwater Institute will always defend the constitutional right of all citizens to associate—or not associate—with whatever private organizations they choose,” Parker said after making the TUSD letter public. “Restrictive dues deduction revocation windows and deadlines, of course, are designed to make it difficult for people to leave powerful labor organizations. Fortunately, the U.S. and Arizona constitutions protect workers and prohibit the school district and the unions’ money grab.”

Terri Jo Neff is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or send her news tips here.

Tucson School Official Justifies School Safety Staff Increase Following Elementary Shooting Threat

Tucson School Official Justifies School Safety Staff Increase Following Elementary Shooting Threat

By Corinne Murdock |

The Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) approved an increase in school safety staff a week before experiencing an active shooter threat last Tuesday. 

TUSD Governing Board member Sadie Shaw pointed to that threat as justification for supporting the increase, which some community members opposed. TUSD will hire five more school safety supervisors, two dispatchers, and one field lieutenant, adding to the 34 existing school safety department members. Only board members Leila Counts and Ravi Shah opposed the increase.

The TUSD community and South Tucson Police Department (STPD) presented different accounts of last Tuesday’s threat, the nature of the 911 calls, and the department’s response times. 

In their version of the events to KGUN 9, STPD claimed that they received one call about the potential gunman at 7:05 am last Tuesday. They said that several men were reportedly arguing over a possible stolen car across from Mission View Elementary School, part of TUSD. Half an hour later, STPD claimed that a school monitor reported in a second call that one of the men may have been armed. 

STPD didn’t respond until 9:05 am, a response time of about two hours in a city of just over one square mile. STPD reported that they didn’t find a gun. 

However, Shaw and others offered a different account of events last Wednesday. Shaw stated that STPD didn’t respond for over three hours, that the alleged gunman was directly threatening the school, and that the school principal placed the calls to police. The board member thanked the TUSD safety team for protecting the students when police failed to arrive.

Shaw said that the experience was significant enough for her to vote to hire more school safety officers.

“I wasn’t on the governing board when they voted to arm school safety but in general I support this decision because these employees are sometimes tasked to respond to dangerous situations that happen at any TUSD site — 24/7,” wrote Shaw. “[Y]ou know what? I have a child that goes to school in this district and so do many of you. I don’t think we can afford to make idealistic decisions that ignore reality. This is America.”

In a subsequent petition to end school gun violence, which Shaw shared, the group “Protect Our South Tucson School” claimed that STPD didn’t respond for three and a half hours, and that the two calls were about, first, a “gun yielding [sic] angry gunman” standing outside the school and, second, an electronic threat sent to the school. Additionally, the group echoed Shaw’s claim that the second call came from the elementary school principal — not a school resource officer. 

The entirety of the group’s account of event is reproduced below:

On Tuesday, June 21st at 7:15 am, 15 minutes before a summer school day started a gun yielding angry gunman stood outside of Mission View Elementary in South Tucson, a one square mile enclave of the much larger city of Tucson.

About an hour after the first call to 911 the school received a threat electronically.

The principal called 911 and pleaded again for law enforcement officers to come to protect the school while students participated in their summer school classes. Nobody showed up. Instead, the school district’s school safety team showed up in a heroic fashion and was able to secure the school.

It wasn’t until 3 and a half hours after the incident did South Tucson Police showed [sic] up to the mass shooting threat.

Every day in the United States a mass shooting occurs, just a few weeks ago in Uvalde Texas, a mass shooter ended the lives of many children and teachers. The lack of urgency in South Tucson PD’s response is unacceptable. We understand that South Tucson PD is understaffed, but when it comes to the potential threat of a mass shooting occurring it should be their number one priority. In the one square mile city, families and schools can only receive services first from South Tucson police. Tucson Police Department should be responding jointly to potential threats of gun violence to our schools regardless if the threat is in South Tucson.

We are calling on South Tucson, Tucson Unified School District and the City of Tucson to address this issue immediately and develop policies that improve lines of communication, and improve collaboration when it comes to protecting our students from gun violence.

AZ Free News reached out to STPD just before noon on Tuesday. We were referred to STPD Chief Danny Denogean; he didn’t respond by press time.

STPD admitted that their response time was too slow, which they asserted was around two hours. Denogean apologized on Monday in a statement to KGUN 9.

“We own this. We should have had a better response to that call. There’s no debating that. We needed to get there quicker.”

The neighboring Tucson Police Department (TPD) has also had slower response times, due to staffing shortages. Assistant Chief Kevin Hall told KOLD in January that the issue has been plaguing them for about two years. Chief Chris Magnus reported that their fastest response time for foremost emergencies averages 4 minutes and 47 seconds, whereas lowest-level calls average about one hour and 37 minutes. 

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Tucson Elementary School Teacher, Red For Ed Activist Mocks School Choice

Tucson Elementary School Teacher, Red For Ed Activist Mocks School Choice

By Corinne Murdock |

Tucson elementary school teacher and prominent Red for Ed activist Wes Oswald derided school choice in a Twitter video posted earlier this week. In addition to teaching the third grade at Manzo Elementary School in the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) and his Red for Ed activity, Oswald has been active in Arizona Educators United (AEU) and Save Our Schools (SOS) Arizona.  

Oswald claimed that private schools aren’t held to the “same high measure” as public schools. He insinuated that taxpayer dollars mostly funded private and religious schools through vouchers.

“Vouchers really are just coupons frequently used by the wealthy to send their kids to private schools at a discounted rate,” said Oswald. “Let’s stop falling for school choice schemes. The vast majority of American families choose to send their kids to public schools. Our public tax dollars belong to public schools, not private and religious ones.”

Oswald also claimed that 95 percent of Arizona families “choose” public schools. Recent polling suggested otherwise: according to Data Orbital, over 80 percent of 600 Arizonans polled supported school choice.

According to recent research by the Goldwater Institute, Arizona’s K-12 public schools are more expensive than a four-year university: over $14,300 per student annually when combining state, local, and federal dollars, versus the cost of over $11,300 for higher education tuition. 

AZ Free News attempted to contact Oswald to ask why he opposed ; however, his TUSD email appeared to be disconnected, and we couldn’t reach him for comment by press time. 

During the 2018 election, Oswald was featured by Tucson News Now for his “Knoctober” initiative, where Red For Ed supporters attempted to knock on 80,000 doors statewide to campaign for their preferred, pro-public school candidates. In several of the clips, Arizona Department of Education (ADE) Superintendent Kathy Hoffman could be seen knocking doors and giving presentations alongside Red for Ed activists. Hoffman was campaigning for her current office at the time. 

“We’re all banking on big change in November. We’ve already come this far — we had 75,000 people walk out in April, and we can’t come this close and just give up,” said Oswald.

Several years later, Oswald was a featured speaker for ADE’s event last April, “The Health of Our Democracy: Civics Here and Now,” as part of the “Educating For American Democracy Initiative.”

Around the same time, Oswald lamented to KGUN about handling the challenges of in-person teaching with some students learning remotely. Oswald has been opposed to in-person learning when any increase in COVID-19 cases occurs. 

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Tucson Schools to Pilot Social-Emotional Learning Curriculum

Tucson Schools to Pilot Social-Emotional Learning Curriculum

By Corinne Murdock |

Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) will pilot a social-emotional learning (SEL) supplemental curriculum at 19 schools this coming spring. TUSD will rely on Character Strong’s SEL supplemental curriculum. 

The following make up the tentative list of schools incorporating the pilot supplemental curriculum, according to TUSD spokeswoman Leslie Lenhart.

  • Elementary: Wheeler, Dunham, Collier, Robison, Grijalva, Erickson, Hudlow, Mission View, Cavett, Van Buskirk, and Ochoa
  • K8: Roskruge, Borman, and Robins
  • Middle: Alice Vail, Valencia, and Utterback
  • High School: Cholla and Santa Rita

Five schools already implemented the supplemental curriculum: Peter Howell Elementary School, Miles Exploratory Learning Center (K-8), Lineweaver Elementary School, Borton Magnet School (elementary), and Sam Hughes Elementary School. According to Lenhart, these five schools will serve in an advisory capacity for the pilot program.

SEL incorporates a variety of controversial teaching approaches, such as Comprehensive Sex Education (CSE), Critical Race Theory (CRT), and Culturally Responsive Education (CRE).

In a slideshow presentation discussing adoption of SEL curriculum, TUSD claimed that SEL cultivated “mindsets, skills, attitudes, and feelings” that set up students for success. The board also described SEL as a necessary precondition for education.

“In essence, SEL focuses on students’ fundamental needs for motivation, social connectedness, and self-regulation as preconditions for learning,” read the agenda item.

SEL promotes five competency areas: self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, relationship skills, and social awareness. The three functions of the TUSD SEL curriculum would focus on prevention and intervention using standards offered by Collaborative Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL): an organization that helped mainstream SEL, a budding theory at the time. 

During the same meeting, the board approved spending $26,325 in federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds on SEL professional development. The funds go toward training teachers, staff, and administration in trauma informed or culturally responsive care, de-escalation strategies, interventions, trauma, and resiliency. 

TUSD has followed state precedent. In December, the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) claimed that SEL was the key to solving the mental health decline in school-aged children. ADE based their claim on an advisory published by Surgeon General Vivek Murthy.

Governor Doug Ducey has acted in support of SEL adoption as well. Last August, AZ Free News reported that $1.6 out of $65 million in learning funds would go toward SEL programming. Then in September, AZ Free News discovered that Secretary of State Katie Hobbs nominated an elementary school teacher for her SEL implementation and activism.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

TUSD Accused of Trapping Employees in Public Sector Unions

Arizona Schools Levy $100 Million Property Tax Increase, Don’t Use Federal Relief

By Corinne Murdock |

Most school districts have decided to saddle their local communities with a near-$100 million property tax increase, which will hit this month. In 2020, the Transpo Delta tax totaled just over $79 million; this year, it will be $178 million.

The law allows districts to raise local property taxes, called a “Transpo Delta” tax, to make up the difference between their current transportation funding determined by the Transportation Support Level (TSL) formula and the highest amount of transportation funding they’ve received historically, or the Transportation Revenue Control Limit (TRCL). Transportation funding is based on the amount of route-miles driven. Essentially, the Transpo Delta tax is TRCL minus TSL.

As Arizona Tax Research Association (ATRA) researcher Sean McCarthy explained, this latest Transpo Delta tax won’t hit communities equally.

“Some districts have almost no Transpo Delta tax because their route-mile driven formula in TSL is close to their TRCL,” assessed McCarthy. “Some have massive amounts, meaning they essentially get more funding than others in relative terms. Districts with lower property value incur abusive tax rates to pay for the Transpo Delta in some cases.”

School districts didn’t have to impose this burden on taxpayers. Districts had the option of tapping into $3.7 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds.

“The one-time decrease in formula monies for transportation is a perfect example of what federal dollars should backfill. It’s not as though this $3.7 billion can be used for permanent pay raises for employees – it’s one-time money,” stated McCarthy. “For most districts, their one-time decrease in formula transportation funding represents a tiny fraction of the federal monies they received.”

According to ATRA, Tucson Unified School District increased taxes by $10.4 million, yet received just under $270 million in federal relief; Alhambra Elementary School District increased taxes by over $1 million, yet received over $93 million in federal relief; and Paradise Valley Unified School District increased taxes by over $4 million and received $64.5 million in federal relief.

Those districts who chose not to increase taxes are Santa Cruz Valley Unified School District, Alpine Elementary School District, Palominas Elementary School District, and San Fernando Elementary School District.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.