TUSD paying millions in court fees in desegregation case

Published: Sep. 30, 2015 at 10:57 PM MST|Updated: Nov. 26, 2015 at 2:10 AM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Millions of dollars for the desegregation case against Tucson's largest school district are not going into the classroom, but into legal fees.

However, the people getting those fees said there's a good reason why. This case has been going on for nearly 40 years.

Minority parents originally sued the district, claiming TUSD was segregated. They won their suit.

The district has been under court supervision  in one way or another for all that time. The case generates hours of work, as well as tens of thousands of pages of documents.

The district is now letting taxpayers know that it has had to pay out some $4 million in court fees over the past few years to the attorneys for the two plaintiff groups, as well as to the Special Master who is assigned to the case.

The Special Master is appointed by the judge and reports directly to him.

TUSD said $1,322,674 goes to the Special Master. $1,372,928 has gone to attorney Rubin Salter, who is the attorney for the "Fisher plaintiffs." $1,363,082 has gone to representatives of the "Mendoza plaintiffs."  That covers previous bills, and there will be more bills to come.

The money for all of that comes from local property taxes.

"You're paying for these fees. There's no federal grant. It's not money coming in from Phoenix. It's money from here and it's money that if this case weren't in place would otherwise be going directly to student support, classroom support, student materials," said TUSD Superintendent H. T. Sanchez.

Tucson News Now spoke with attorney Rubin Salter, who said in this type of lawsuit, the winner is entitled to attorney's fees. He said two federal courts approved the fees, and in some cases, TUSD agreed to fees without going to court.

"We did not get paid except for $2,500 for the first 35 years of the lawsuit. So the figure that's being bandied around as to what the attorneys got as from my office--that figure, if you divide it over 37 years, it comes to approximately $35,100-and-some dollars per year," Salter said.

The district has made changes to comply with the desegregation order over the years.

Sanchez said district demographics have changed and, with open enrollment and charter schools, students have many school choices.

He said the district is working to finally end court supervision, but that stage of the process still is few years off.

A district spokesperson said they will post the latest report to the federal court soon.

The report that was made to the TUSD Governing Board is here. (PDF)

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