A political action committee, created in response to Fresno Unified’s use of no-bid construction contracts, is demanding that Superintendent Michael Hanson face sanctions for using a controversial privacy phone app to conduct school district business.
Fresnans for Responsibility and Ethics in Education held a small news conference outside of Bullard High School on Thursday, asking the Fresno Unified school board to put Hanson on administrative leave and conduct an independent investigation. Hanson and other top staffers said earlier this week that they used Cyber Dust to discuss school business last year.
Cyber Dust is a self-erasing phone app that deletes any trace of certain text messages and touts its ability to leave no digital footprint. Critics, including some Fresno Unified trustees, have said Hanson’s and others’ use of the app is unethical and goes against public records laws.
Hanson said the app was used only for a short period of time to “see if it would help us do our work better and more effectively,” and denied that it had anything to do with an ongoing federal grand jury investigation of the district.
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When it comes to the superintendent, [trustees] have blinders on, and that will be their downfall if they don’t do something about it.
Former Fresno Unified Trustee Larry Moore
The investigation focuses on the district’s “leaseback” construction contracts and its use of public bond money, demanding a wide range of documents dating back to 2009 – including district officials’ personal phone records.
“Why do you even need an app like that? There’s no reason to have that from a business standpoint,” FREE chairwoman and Fresno Unified parent Casey Lamonski said Thursday. “I do half of my job by text messaging, and you need that paper trail.”
Larry Moore, who served on the Fresno Unified Board of Trustees from 2008 to 2012 and is the former head of the Fresno Teachers Association, has signed onto FREE as co-chairman. Moore, a longtime critic of Hanson, said Thursday the Cyber Dust issue is not an isolated incident – it’s the latest in a pattern of shady business practices and cover-ups headed by the superintendent.
Michael Hanson behaves with arrogance. If you follow this trail of bread crumbs, you will find a history of what I consider to be dishonest behavior.
Jan Drenth, retired Fresno Unified teacher
“If you look at this as one incident you might conclude, ‘What’s the big deal?’ But you have to look at this as a pattern that has happened for many years and is getting worse,” Moore said. “There has been a pattern of allegations against Mr. Hanson for many years. In each case, the majority of the school board has refused to investigate or even discuss any allegations of wrongdoing by the superintendent. When it comes to the superintendent, they have blinders on, and that will be their downfall if they don’t do something about it.”
Jan Drenth, a retired Fresno Unified teacher, attended the FREE event and said the Cyber Dust discovery is “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
“Michael Hanson behaves with arrogance. If you follow this trail of bread crumbs, you will find a history of what I consider to be dishonest behavior,” she said. “But there are board members in bed with Hanson. They aren’t going to deal with the issues at hand because he has helped them all in some way.”