Bob Nelson knows it’s a tough time to take on the role of Fresno Unified superintendent.
At Wednesday’s school board meeting, where he was officially named leader of the state’s fourth-largest district, more than 60 people signed up to speak on another issue: whether school board president Brooke Ashjian should resign after recent controversial comments about the LGBT community.
Meanwhile, the Fresno Teachers Association is considering going on strike for the first time in 40 years, after months of failed negotiations with the district.
The district also is dealing with a federal investigation, launched in 2015 over the use of public bond money for no-bid construction contracts.
$295,000Fresno Unified Superintendent Bob Nelson’s salary
While the board has been divided in recent years, it voted unanimously Wednesday to hire Nelson, who has worked in different roles for Fresno Unified for more than 20 years, and also served as superintendent of Chawanakee Unified in Madera County. Nelson was chief of staff to former superintendent Michael Hanson, who was terminated without cause in January.
Nelson, who has been serving as interim superintendent since Hanson’s ousting, said “many are embarrassed” by the district’s recent drama, and he hopes to get the community re-focused on students.
“If you want to know the truth, I think that’s why I’m called to be here – to try to be a model of civility,” Nelson said to a standing ovation. “We’re at a crossroads in many ways as a community but I think I’m here for a reason.”
We’re at a crossroads in many ways as a community but I think I’m here for a reason.
Fresno Unified Superintendent Bob Nelson
According to his contract – valid until 2021 – Nelson will make a starting salary of $295,000. He is a father of seven – including four foster children – and is pursuing his doctorate degree in organizational change and leadership at USC.
Nelson was first named the superintendent finalist last month, beating out 24 other candidates, but his contract was not finalized until Wednesday’s vote. The board hired an outside firm to conduct a statewide search for applicants, and also held public meetings across the city to seek input from the community. The board did not name the other finalists.
This is the first time since 1988 that Fresno Unified has hired one of its own employees to become superintendent.
“I feel the seriousness of having the obligation to do well on behalf of all of you. I represent you, and I thank you,” Nelson said to Wednesday’s audience. “I don’t even know what to say about a standing ovation. That’s just crazy. I could not be more gracious.”