Fresno Unified school board members could soon have their own personal assistants, paid for by the district.
The board is divided on the potential hires, which could cost up to $82,000 annually for each of the seven trustees. That estimate – made by the district’s human resources department – is too high, though, according to board President Brooke Ashjian, who is spearheading the proposal.
“That’s an absolute asinine number we would never approve,” he said. “This should be net neutral to the taxpayer.”
I do not support hiring personal staff to do the job the voters elected us to do.
Fresno Unified Trustee Christopher De La Cerda
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Ashjian says that the salary of assistants should be closer to $40,000 and that they would be part-time employees. He says he is looking to make the potential positions cost nothing to the district by cutting the budget in other areas. He suggests cutting back on the district’s communications department or having trustees pay for their own meals at events.
Ashjian points out that Fresno City Council members have chiefs of staff and that currently, one person oversees Fresno Unified’s constituent services office.
“Fresno Unified has 74,000 children … and we have one person that takes all calls and complaints,” he said. “I personally think it’s an incredible opportunity for the city of Fresno, and our children, as well as our parents. Fresno Unified has become so impersonal that we don’t know people, and people don’t know where to go.”
Fresno Unified has become so impersonal that we don’t know people.
Fresno Unified board President Brooke Ashjian
At Los Angeles Unified – the second-largest school system in the United States – school board members have an administrative assistant and other advisers. But other districts that are larger than Fresno Unified do not. San Diego Unified employs two assistants for the full school board, and Long Beach Unified has one secretary who serves its five trustees.
While Ashjian said a majority of the school board is behind hiring assistants, Trustee Christopher De La Cerda said he is against it. He also criticized a proposal that would allow school board members to have authority over a portion of the budget for needs in their representative regions, saying both measures could lead to micromanaging and budget mismanagement.
“I do not support hiring personal staff to do the job the voters elected us to do, nor do I support using district monies as personal slush funds that could lead to more inequities,” De La Cerda said.
The board has yet to vote on the matter.