Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson to get $200,000 in back pay

The Fresno BeeJune 19, 2013 

After five years of forgoing extra salary perks, Fresno Unified School District's superintendent will get back $200,000 in pay he's turned down since 2008, raising questions with some about whether he ever intended to give up the money.

The money comes as part of a settlement between Superintendent Michael Hanson and the district. The school board approved the deal during closed board discussion on a 6-1 vote Wednesday, with trustee Michelle Asadoorian casting the lone "no" vote.

A nine-page document outlining the deal describes Hanson's track record during his eight-year tenure. Restoring the pay is in "recognition of a job well-done, desire for long-term stability, compromise," the settlement reads.

Hanson initially rejected the funds after the economy slid into recession, leaving many cash-strapped California districts to operate on even thinner yearly budgets. In all, he declined an estimated $240,000 in extra pay since 2008.

He will receive the funds in two chunks -- the first $100,000 check will come by July 15. He'll get an additional $100,000 by May 1, 2014. The school board also signed off on a 2%, or $7,500, pay raise for Hanson on a 6-1 vote. Asadoorian voted no. The raise is effective July 1.

"I'm again incredibly humbled and gratified. I'm almost without words," he told reporters Wednesday. "It's a 'wow' kind of thing."

The settlement comes as an apparent change of tune for the district's top administrator, who since 2008 has said he'd forgo an annual $30,000 retention bonus and a 3.5% automatic salary raise that's written in his contract.

Hanson on Wednesday defended the deal, pointing to a 2008 letter he signed that says he would temporarily suspend his raise and retention bonus. The letter was addressed to Ruth Quinto, the district's chief financial officer, and copied to then-board president Tony Vang.

"I realize people always wanted to play a word game with me for exactly a moment like this," he told reporters. "But that's exactly why I wrote the letter so there's a document that would say I know what I did. I didn't know if anything would come my way or not."

But the deal immediately raised eyebrows among Fresno Teachers Association union representatives, who expressed concern about Hanson's payday after he publicly declined extra dollars for five years.

"You've forgone, which means you didn't accept, but now you're going back and accepting," said Eva Ruiz, president of the teacher's union. She noted that the union is in negotiations with the district over a new contract. "We hope this is some indication of how the school board is going to work and appreciate all of the employees of the district."

Asadoorian said in an interview that she too was under the impression Hanson permanently passed up the funds.

"What had been reported in the press made me believe he had given them up," she said.

In November 2008, amid a worsening economy, Hanson told The Bee he had decided not to accept the $30,000 bonus or the pay increase, stating: "No way was I going to take a pay raise with the district going into budget troubles. We all have to make sacrifices if we want to move the district forward."

In other business, more than 80 cafeteria workers packed the school board meeting Wednesday to speak out against a district plan to replace hot-meal programs with pre-packaged breakfasts and lunches at 31 Fresno Unified elementary schools by August.

Cooks dressed in white uniforms pleaded with the school board to reject the "satellite" lunch plan -- a move the district says could save costs. Many said the measure was unilaterally decided by the district before the classified employee union had a chance to bargain.

Others complained about the quality of the pre-packaged food, saying kids don't like to eat them.

"They don't want wet nuggets, soggy tater tots," said Terri Spencer, food service manager at Aynesworth Elementary.

Surrounded by dozens of cafeteria workers after the listening session, 10-year-old Miah Carrillo, a sixth-grader at Lane Elementary, told Hanson the satellite meals were "disgusting food that no one wants to eat."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6412, or @hannahfurfaro on Twitter.

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