Fresno Unified board elects Valerie Davis as president; Tony Vang is absent

The Fresno BeeJune 20, 2012 

Tony Vang skipped Fresno Unified's school board meeting Wednesday night, when Valerie Davis was elected to replace him as board president after he resigned from the position last week amid a controversy over his residency.

Vang's Sacramento-based spokesman, William Hodges, said Vang decided to take Wednesday as a personal day. Vang reportedly didn't want to be a distraction from the board's work. He has said he intends to remain a trustee.

"It's been a wild few weeks," Hodges said. "He did it out of respect."

Trustees are paid a monthly stipend of $1,443. Vang also missed a meeting last month, one day before The Bee first reported questions about his residency. He was reportedly on vacation.

Davis won in a 5-1 vote, with Trustee Michelle Asadoorian casting the lone no vote, saying she would prefer the presidency rotate among board members.

Trustee Cal Johnson was elected to replace Davis as board clerk. Asadoorian again cast the only no vote.

Vang's residency issues were touched on only occasionally Wednesday evening, marking a stark difference from the emotionally charged and at times chaotic June 6 meeting. Asadoorian made her first public appeal to the board to take action on Vang's residency issues; trustees did not respond to her request.

Asadoorian and Trustee Larry Moore walked out of the June 6 meeting after they attempted to speak on the issue but were silenced by Vang.

Last month Asadoorian sent a letter to the board asking for a special meeting to discuss revelations that Vang bought a house on East Goshen Avenue in the Clovis Unified School District -- the principal residence for him and his wife -- and voted there. Asadoorian said she received no response to that letter.

She and Moore have since held a news conference calling for an outside investigation.

Vang has said he has always lived in the area of the district he was elected to represent, McLane High School. He has been registered to vote at an address on East Fountain Way, in his trustee area, since last year.

The California Secretary of State's Election Fraud Investigation Unit is evaluating complaints against Vang to determine whether he violated the elections code. The Fresno County District Attorney's Office, Fresno County Board of Supervisors and state attorney general have also been asked to investigate.

On Wednesday, Superintendent Michael Hanson addressed indirectly the Vang controversy and the chaos of the previous board meeting, saying adults should "set aside distractions and focus on [kids'] needs.

"Every day that we're not spent focused on that, we've failed," Hanson said. "We've failed those students. We've failed their parents and their guardians. And more broadly, we have failed the community."

He called on the community to be civil and respectful, and set an example for students.

The atmosphere was calmer than the board meeting two weeks ago; Fresno resident Jim Compton-Schmidt described Wednesday's meeting as "more sane" during public comment.

But the early minutes were interrupted by a commotion outside the board room, where teacher and parent Olga Valle was protesting a district order that barred her from all Fresno Unified campuses and facilities for 14 days, with the exception of Hidalgo Elementary, where she works. District staff prevented Valle from entering the meeting.

In an emailed statement, the district said Valle was directed this week to stay away from Fresno Unified sites after she violated the district's civility policy when she disrupted a Graduation Task Force meeting last month. Valle is currently battling the district in a case over her special-education son.

According to the statement, "Ms. Valle violated the District's directive by entering the District main office and refusing to leave" during the board meeting.

A Fresno police officer patrolling the meeting said that because Valle was barred by a district order -- not a court order -- police would not arrest her.

In other action:

  • The board approved a Broad Residency Grant for the district's newly hired chief of staff -- a new position added under the recent administration reorganization. Babatunde Ilori will receive a $62,700 grant over two years, which covers about one-third of his salary. Fresno Unified will pay the remainder of his $95,525 annual salary.

Ilori was hired in May to work full time. As a Broad Resident, he will also participate in about 25 days of professional development across the country.

The Los Angeles-based Broad Foundation is a philanthropic organization that works on governance and policy issues in urban school districts. The foundation is widely disliked among teachers unions and public-school parent groups across the country for its philosophy that public schools should be run like a business, according to critics.

Moore, former leader of the Fresno Teachers Association, said he was concerned the grant would allow the Broad Foundation to influence the district to operate more like a top-down corporation. Asadoorian said she too had concerns about the Broad teachings. Moore voted in favor of the grant; Asadoorian opposed it.

Trustee Carol Mills said that since Ilori had already been hired, the district would be responsible for paying his full salary if they didn't have the grant.

Fresno Unified Trustees have undergone Broad Foundation-sponsored training.

  • John Forbes was named Fresno High School's new principal, and the board appointed Lindsay Sanders as principal of Edison High School.
  • The board approved temporarily a list of attorneys and private investigators to assist the district with legal issues. Asadoorian requested that staff make available to the public by August a breakdown of costs for legal fees and investigators, and how Fresno Unified's expenses compare to those of other urban school districts.

Staff writer Lindsey Jones contributed to this report. The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6412, hsomerville@fresnobee.com or @heathersomervil on Twitter.

The Fresno Bee is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service