A political rookie is looking to fill the Fresno Unified Area 7 seat being vacated by Trustee Michelle Asadoorian in what’s been a quiet — but relatively expensive — race.
Businessman Brooke Ashjian and cafeteria worker Ruben Martinez are both on the ballot for the spot that represents Bullard High and its feeder schools.
When he entered the race in August, Martinez, 32, said he’d work to improve accountability by the district’s governing board.
But the father of two has largely kept to himself since announcing his candidacy. In an email to The Bee this week, Martinez said he’s dealing with health issues and has stopped campaigning.
“I have extreme confidence in Mr. Brooke Ashjian to lead our district and our children to success,” he wrote.
Meanwhile, Ashjian is in full campaign mode. He’s launched a slick website and earned the Fresno Teachers Association union’s only endorsement. His blue and white campaign signs dot lawns across northwest Fresno neighborhoods.
If elected, Ashjian would step into a job representing Bullard parents who have long been vocal over school issues like discipline and classroom overcrowding.
Ashjian, CEO of Seal Rite Paving & Grading, said he’s well aware of the saga of discord between the Bullard community and most of the current board members. But he said he’d bring a calm hand if elected, noting “there was some riff between Area 7 and some of the other areas, personality conflicts, and I don’t bring those to the table.”
Creating safer campuses, offering career technical education in middle school and stiffening penalties for parents of truant children top his to-do list.
As a member of the business community, Ashjian said he understands the importance of creating partnerships to grapple with these types of goals. Working with the District Attorney’s office to nab parents of chronically truant youngsters is one of his ideas. Bringing local business owners into career education classrooms is another suggestion.
More than anything, Ashjian said, he’d work to give families easier access to school officials.
“With Fresno Unified School District you shouldn’t have to be the PTA president or know (Superintendent Michael) Hanson or your trustee to get great service,” he said.
With more than $25,000 raised for Ashjian’s war chest by the end of September, Area 7 is the most expensive among the three races underway in Fresno Unified. Martinez did not file any campaign donation reports.
Ashjian has collected money from family friends like Brent Smittcamp, who contributed $5,000, and real estate developers Todd Cook of Cook Land Company and Guy Stockbridge of Elite Landscaping.
In early October, Ashjian said he’d reject donations from unions and business interests so as not to appear beholden to them. The money from Cook and Stockbridge come as gifts from lifelong buddies, he said. He has not accepted money from the FTA.
Ashjian has said it’s important for board members to avoid potential conflicts of interest, like accepting money from companies that receive building or other contracts from the district. Stockbridge’s Elite Landscaping has done work for Fresno Unified, district spokesman Jedidiah Chernabaeff said. Other business owners with a history of landing district contracts — like Richard Spencer, of Harris Construction — have made big donations to candidates like incumbents Cal Johnson and Valerie Davis. Ashjian said he will keep his own business, which has snagged contracts with Fresno Unified for millions of dollars in the past, out of the running for contracts if he’s elected.
“I firmly believe in my soul that we can end poverty in Fresno in one generation through education, and that is more important to me than any bank account,” he said.