Financial, leadership and academic woes continue at Tuba City School

TUBA CITY, Ariz. - What used to be the top reservation school district, the one to beat, considered top-of-the- heap in core academic subjects, cross-country, basketball, MCJROTC, art and music programs has appeared to go downhill in the past three years

Current Board President Judy Begay, along with board members Marie Wheeler and Lee Tsinigine, are making every effort to guide the Tuba City Unified School District (TCUSD) in a new direction to make TCUSD the "lighthouse" district it once was.

Their first big step recently was to hire Dr. Harold G. Begay as their new interim superintendent. Begay's new interim appointment was approved by vote on July 21.

Begay, who has been with the district in varied top administrative capacities for over 25 years, has the confidence and support of the local community and staff members that could turn this district back around.

"The former governing board lost sight of student achievement and we need to get back to what we are really here for, and that is students must come first," said Tsingine.

TCUSD serves both the Western Navajo Agency and two Hopi villages as well as busing in students from as far away as Polacca at First Mesa at Hopi. Polacca is 92 miles away and the Navajo area of Dinnebito.

This is how much strength the TCUSD Warrior reputation had garnered over the past 60 years of operation. Current board members Begay, Wheeler and Tsinigine hope to regain their former high standard of TCUSD operation.

In the past three years, two of the former superintendents were released from contract starting firstly with Eugene Thomas, who was eventually fired for financial concerns after an almost year long battle.

Student enrollment declined each year after Thomas was dismissed. This has caused numerous staff resignations, expressing their own dissatisfaction. Prior to Thomas, the district held fast to nearly 2,800 enrolled students. Enrollment has now dwindled down to approximately 1,700 students.

State enrollment statistics show that TCUSD lost 150 students last year alone, which amounted to almost a $1 million dollar loss in state and federal revenue.

Thomas's contract had to be bought out by the former governing board, leaving the board with a makeshift administration. This added further instability to their problems.

Immediately after Thomas was removed, another controversial superintendent selection was made by choosing William Higgins, a newcomer to the reservation.

Higgins did not fit in well with the local western reservation community. It was his first time to serve such a large school district coming from a small reservation school setting at the Colville Reservation in Washington state.

Higgins hired a consulting firm from Texas for TCUSD. This cost the district close to half a million dollars. The consulting contract with this firm was eventually terminated in January 2010.

With Higgins overwhelmed by the size and scope of leading TCUSD, the governing board then took the step to terminate his contract and started by "re-assigning" him to one of the smaller TCUSD elementary schools.

Another troubled area for TCUSD is finances. There has been three business managers in the past four years, making compliance with audits and rectifying outstanding accounts nearly impossible. The district credit card is one of these troubled areas, the title programs is another.

There is also money in several title programs that has not been assigned. Those dollars must be committed by Sept. 1 or TCUSD will lose that vital funding. So far, title money that has gone uncommitted has racked up is $3.1 million dollars that could go to both direct student services and also staff development.

So far, no formal plans have been presented to staff and no public input has been sought by the former superintendent.

Failure to meet state AYP has also plagued TCUSD. This year, five of the seven Tuba City Schools failed to make this state standard.

A suggestion made by a community member to TCUSD was to post all expenditures, financial and test score information on the school website.

It could be a positive step for TCUSD to make all of their state and federal funding information public and provide accountability to test score achievement and financial transparency.

Information for all TCUSD finances and achievement test scores are public and can be viewed by going to the http://www.auditorgen.state.az.us/, the AZDepartmentofEducation.com website or by making a formal Freedom of Information Act request directly to the TCUSD district at the superintendent's office.

TCUSD receives these public funds for student education and wellbeing and all of that information must be made available to anyone that requests that information.

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