Hayden High School Had a Farm, E-I-E-I-O

The Center for Agribusiness and Equine Science was supposed to help desegregate the Phoenix Union High School District. Now the same lawsuit that created it is shutting it down.

Last year, the total desegregation funds for Phoenix Union almost reached $35 million, a full 26 percent of the total budget.

As board member Susan Fulton explains, "If that lawsuit goes away, under state law right now, we can continue to fund the programs that we're funding with it. But what was being rumbled in the legislative rules was that if the lawsuit goes away, we'll see if we can run a bill to change state law so that we can take the deseg money away."

Other board members agree that it's a risky business practice to build a budget around money that could so easily disappear.

"You've got a lot of people who are afraid that if you tell Flores, 'Butt out, we're running the school, this has an educational value, we're going to continue to fund it this way,' that he was going to then, in turn, demand that the judge appoint a special auditor, and he was going to demand to see how the funds were spent and we'd probably lose all $35 million," Fulton continues.

Doug Thomas, the board president, says he would invite anyone to examine the books. Thomas, who is also an attorney, and Dick Yetwin, the school district's attorney, both think that Flores is just posturing as any attorney would when he boasts that he'll take away the desegregation money.

"Al would have to go a long way to convince a federal judge," says Yetwin.
Flores wants the money to go into a new school, not magnet programs. Magnets, however attractive, just haven't done what they were intended to do: raise academic standards and opportunities and desegregate the district.

Between 1982, when the Flores suit was filed, and 1995, Anglo enrollment in the Phoenix Union High School District dropped from 11,500 to 5,800, while the Hispanic population rose from 5,000 to 11,600. Those eerily similar numbers show that one population quite literally displaced the other; meanwhile, the African-American population remained constant at about 2,500, and the Native American population grew from 535 to 738.

In May of 1996, Dr. Richard Valencia, a Texas college professor hired by Flores to analyze the magnet programs in the Phoenix Union district, issued an evaluation of the magnet programs. In his conclusion, Valencia writes, "It appears that Anglo students, particularly those of higher SES [socioeconomic status] background, have disproportionately benefited from the magnet programs. On the other hand, minority students, especially those of lower [socioeconomic] backgrounds, have not benefited the same degree from the magnet programs. From a pedagogical perspective, these contrasts make little sense--that is, providing greater advantage to those students who are, for the most part, already advantaged."

It's a Catch-22. The magnets were created to attract Anglo students. White students were in fact attracted to the magnets, but the overall district became more segregated rather than less. And minority students were not being attracted in sufficient numbers, whether because of counselors or cultural perceptions, the inability to transfer from other minority schools or just out of indifference. The Farm, for instance, could handle 300 students; it had 178 at its high point last year, fewer by the end of the semester.

"There is no question that the magnet schools are absolutely wonderful--and absolutely expensive," says Kino Flores.

There are about 4,000 students in the Phoenix Union district's 14 magnet programs, about 20 percent of the total school population. Sixty-four percent of those are minority students; 36 percent are Anglo. But the cost per student at those schools is an additional $1,056 to $8,088 per student per year above the per-student cost of the district as a whole, which is $4,717. That means that students in some magnet programs cost more than $12,800 per year to educate, nearly three times as much as those in the general school population. The Farm cost per student falls in the middle of that range at $3,247 additional cost per student per year.

"It's just an incredible amount of money for a very limited number of kids," says district board president Doug Thomas.

In fact, the school board has discussed eliminating all of the magnets to search for new strategies to satisfy the consent and decree order. And keep the desegregation funds in its budget.

Then what? Dr. Valencia's dreamy recommendations come straight out of Sesame Street.

"To avoid becoming a 90-100% minority district in the future," he writes, "PUHSD will need to be ingenuous [sic] in ways to improve the Anglo capture rate. One way, which I discussed earlier, is to develop an Effective Schools Model, in which high academic achievement is the foremost goal of education. As such, parents of all racial/ethnic backgrounds will want their children to enroll in the district."

Flores' goals are more modest and more realistic: Build a new school and they might stop rioting at South Mountain.

According to the court, that school is supposed to open in the fall of 1999. The Farm is in the way--literally, figuratively, economically.

At the end of August 1996, the school board and administration held an open meeting at Carl Hayden High School to show off their plans to use the agribusiness and equine magnet site for the new Cesar Chavez High School.

Down on the Farm, this was cause for much alarm. The parents and the school's advisory board, which comprises agri-businessmen, state agriculture officials and even U.S. Forest Service employees, formed an ad hoc committee to come up with alternatives to destroying the magnet facility.

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