First 5 leader resigns as Fresno County vote on commission downsizing looms

The Fresno BeeJune 6, 2014 

KENDRA ROGERS

Kendra Rogers is resigning from First 5.

Kendra Rogers, who has come under fire as executive director of the First 5 Fresno County children's agency, said Friday she is resigning and will take a different job that allows her to remain in the forefront on children's issues.

Rogers, 37, has been with First 5 for 14 years and served as its head for the past five. Her last day is July 11, she said Friday. She would not name her new job.

She became a target of the Fresno County Board of Supervisors, which dictates the First 5 Commission's composition, because of the agency's new downtown Fresno building and comments she made in 2012 following a State of the County luncheon. A plan to reduce the First 5 Commission from nine to five members will be considered by county supervisors on June 17.

Rogers is critical of that proposal, which she said would limit the board's diversity in expertise, geography and ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.

The First 5 board already includes a Fresno County supervisor and two county department heads. Six other commission members are Fresno County residents with various types of expertise. The county proposal would reduce the number of community members to two.

Community members and Rogers' supporters are expected to challenge the effort to shrink the commission.

Former Fresno County Supervisor Susan Anderson, who was on the First 5 Commission when Rogers was first named executive director, said a smaller commission is not the right approach.

"That organization needs community representation," Anderson said. "With only five you will not have diversity ... it's just a way to control (the commission)."

She said Rogers' departure is a "huge loss" because she offered strong fiscal accountability, and Fresno's First 5 agency was recognized as one of the leading First 5 organizations statewide under her leadership.

"The challenges in Fresno are huge and Kendra has really acknowledged the need to connect with children in poverty," said Moira Kenney, executive director of the First 5 Association of California.

Central Unified School District Superintendent Mike Berg said Rogers' shoes will be impossible to fill.

"I think she has been a visionary in early childhood education and community collaboration," said Berg, who also serves on the First 5 Commission. "She was absolutely the right person to lead that agency."

Supervisor Henry R. Perea, who sits on the First 5 Commission, is leading the charge for supervisors to change the First 5 Commission's composition and asked the board Tuesday to move the change from July to next week.

He was glad to hear that Rogers had gotten another job.

"She has done well and like most CEOs she's going into a higher job," Perea said. "She is seeking greener pastures and I commend her for it."

Perea said supervisors were concerned that the agency is paying for educational studies, not using its money to build programs, which he said speaks directly to Rogers' leadership.

First 5, which operates on revenue generated through the state's tobacco tax, has had stagnant or lower funding in recent years. Even though the agency has been successful, Perea thinks it needs a change in focus.

"The resources are scarce," he said. "The people we talk to want to see more teachers and counselors and more direct services to children."

Three other Fresno County supervisors -- Debbie Poochigian, Phil Larson and Judy Case McNairy -- were upset with the First 5 Commission because of the agency's new Tulare Street headquarters in downtown Fresno.

The $15 million project, which the supervisors opposed, is under construction.

The project includes a child care center, classroom space and a community conference room in addition to First 5's administrative offices.

Perea said he intends to meet with First 5 staff next week to assure them that they will not be diverted from their mission.

"They should not expect any change from what they are experiencing now," he said.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6166, mbenjamin@fresnobee.com or @beebenjamin on Twitter.

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