- Associated Press - Thursday, March 26, 2015

PHOENIX (AP) - An Arizona House panel shut down an effort to require audits of desegregation spending in the Tucson Unified and Phoenix Union High school districts after hearing from top district officials that there are already extensively audited.

Rep. Mark Finchem said his proposal was prompted by whistleblowers who told him that Tucson in particular was misusing some of its $64 million in yearly desegregation cash.

But the Appropriations Committee shelved the Oro Valley Republican’s plan late Wednesday after the district superintendents testified that they are already extensively audited.

Tucson Superintendent H.T. Sanchez said the district’s spending is under federal oversight and audited under supervision of plaintiffs in a 40-year-old federal case. He also said an audit would be a distraction from moving the district from federal oversight.

“I’d rather spend a half a million dollars getting out from under this court case,” Sanchez said.

Finchem said he has information that the district has misspent desegregation money on a larger board meeting room and on a gymnasium.

But Sanchez said a federal judge approved the expansion of the board meeting room after another federal agency said the public was being turned away from meetings and that all other spending was legal and completely documented.

Efforts to create a racially balanced school system in Tucson date to 1974. The district has been under a court desegregation order for decades after parents of Hispanic and black students filed class-action lawsuits. The district is now halfway through a four-year plan to end federal oversight.

Democrats on the panel railed at the effort to force the extensive audits, saying it pulled money better spent on children for no reason.

“Are we just out here on a witch hunt?” asked Rep. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix. “That’s my question. There’s no evidence that I know of to go after Phoenix.”

Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, noted that Finchem’s legislative district didn’t include Tucson Unified and he hadn’t even bothered to talk to Sanchez or ask for existing financial information before proposing legislation. “The sponsor has not done his due diligence,” Farley said.

The Appropriations Committee chairman, Republican Rep. Justin Olson, then shelved the bill without a vote.

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