Tucson district: End court supervision in desegregation case

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Tucson's largest school district wants to free itself of court supervision in a four-decade-old desegregation case that has prompted a spending boost of over $60 million a year.

Schools in Tucson Unified School District haven't been segregated for decades and court approval of the request for so-called unitary status would save money now being spent on legal fees and administration but would still keep dollars flowing for related programs for students, district officials said.

“This is not a segregated district,” Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo said. “You have 50% of the students in this district that are either in a fully integrated school or in a highly diverse school.”

However, a representative for the plaintiffs in the court case said TUSD has not complied with all of the desegregation court order. There is a continued racial disparity in student discipline and the district hasn’t properly implemented a plan specific to services for Mexican American students, said Sylvia Campoy.

The Arizona Daily Star reports that TUSD officials expect a ruling by a U.S. District Court judge by August on the request filed Dec. 31.

Trujillo said 30 of the district’s 86 schools are fully integrated, although a racial achievement gap still exists, which is true throughout the state. TUSD doesn’t need a court order to “take the achievement gap seriously,” he said.

“This is no longer a desegregation case,” he said. “This is an academic achievement case.”

Under the federal court order, TUSD is required to focus on more than racial integration. The case calls for addressing quality of education, student discipline disparities, facilities and technology, transportation and community engagement, among other issues.

The case started in 1978 when the Mendoza and Fisher plaintiff families sued the district for running a defacto desegregated school system.

The academic achievement of Mexican American students “continues to be of monumental concern to the Mendoza plaintiffs,” Campoy wrote in an email.

The district receives more than $60 million annually from a special property tax levy to cover expenses in the desegregation effort.

Once the case is closed, TUSD will still have those tax dollars available for a while, but Trujillo said the district will only ask taxpayers for the funds needed to keep successful student programs.

Desegregation funding pays for student services like dual-language and gifted and talented programs.

The District Court granted the school district partial unitary status in September 2018, on 25 of 50 provisions.

“I think we’re very much a model for integration now,” Trujillo said. “More than we’ve ever been in the past.”

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This story has corrected the first name of Superintendent Trujillo to Gabriel, not Gabrial.