Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson’s evaluation was abruptly pulled from Wednesday’s school board meeting agenda – but the district is staying quiet about the reasons.
In a news release, the district said the board had to address a “new, unprecedented and intensely complicated pressing legal matter” in closed session, which would postpone Hanson’s scheduled self-evaluation.
Hanson would not release further details about the purpose of the closed meeting but said the board would be briefed by attorneys. The board emerged from closed session Wednesday and reported no action.
“It’s a web of significant issues that has to be dealt with by counsel. In my nearly 20 years of sitting in closed sessions, I have not seen something as complicated that needs to be dealt with,” Hanson said Wednesday. “(Board members) have some things they’re going to have to wrestle with today. We’re grappling with some significant issues.”
Last week, the Fresno Teachers Association called on the school board to remove Hanson’s self-evaluation from Wednesday’s agenda, taking issue with the process coming earlier than usual. Last year, Hanson did not receive his annual performance review until December. The FTA has voiced concerns about why he asked for the process to be expedited. The district is under federal investigation for its no-bid construction contracts, leaving critics to speculate whether Hanson was pushing for an earlier evaluation because he’s pursuing a job elsewhere.
On Wednesday, Hanson denied those rumors.
“I’m not looking for a new job,” he said. “I’m employed by our board. I work for the kids of the city, and I love it.”
In my nearly 20 years of sitting in closed sessions, I have not seen something as complicated that needs to be dealt with.
Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson
While FTA President Tish Rice publicly thanked the district for pulling the agenda item, saying the board “needs adequate time to be thoughtful” given the investigation, Hanson said the delay has nothing to do with FTA’s requests. He also said the move is not related to the federal investigation, himself or top district staff members. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t involve school board members, though, Hanson said.
“It’s not at all related (to FTA), but it’s not at all a coincidence. We are in negotiations with FTA, and they will continue tactics and practices like this from the leadership ranks to try to put smoke in the air about what’s actually happening,” he said.
Hanson told a Fresno Bee reporter: “I would invite you to go back and read your own publication. For at least 10 years, you will see that FTA leadership uses a series of tactics anytime we’re in negotiations or anytime there’s board elections, where they try to bully, scare, steer or promote some environment that’s actually not there.”
Prior to Wednesday’s meeting, Fresno Unified trustee Brooke Ashjian said he was in the dark about the mysterious news release.
“As a board member, I’m treated a lot like the press. I don’t know what it’s about,” he said. “I’m sure that it will be what I would call a ‘nothing burger.’ ”
On Thursday, Ashjian said he could not comment because the discussion was in closed session.
Last year, the school board gave Hanson a positive review in a 5-2 vote despite the investigation. Ashjian and trustee Carol Mills were the “no” votes, and they have been critical of his leadership since the district was served with a subpoena in September 2015.
Hanson said he’s not concerned about his evaluation this year. He said his self-evaluation will be addressed as soon as possible, but that the legal issue had to addressed Wednesday instead.
“I’m not actually worried about it at all,” Hanson said. “I’ve had 11-plus positive evaluations. I’ve had people vote ‘no’ on them before. It’s just the way it goes sometimes. But I’m very proud of what we’ve done. I do think the 2015-16 year was really a watershed year for Fresno Unified.”