Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson paused during his largely complimentary speech at the district’s annual State of Education luncheon Monday to address his critics.
Hanson said he knows he is employed by the district’s Board of Trustees, but works for the students of Fresno. He said recent negative news about the district has been unwarranted.
“I’ll leave the rest of the conversation to the critics – I found out I have a few,” he said. “But for any pundits, I’ll throw a bone: We as a Fresno Unified School District are fully cooperating with the federal grand jury subpoena process. And very importantly I expect, I expect, when all the findings are complete, no further action will be taken.”
Hanson’s statement was met with a round of applause. He was referring to an August federal grand jury subpoena of district records that demands answers about the use of public bond money and focuses on school district officials who oversaw no-bid contracts for multimillion-dollar construction projects.
The luncheon serves as the district’s largest fundraiser for the Fresno Unified Scholarship Fund. On Monday, the district received around $27,500, surpassing what was raised last year. Since its start in 2012, the luncheon has raised more than $119,000 for college scholarships.
Hanson told the crowd – among them leaders including Mayor Ashley Swearengin and Fresno Housing Authority executive director Preston Prince – that Fresno Unified is on the right track.
He mentioned many achievements, including increases in eighth-graders who complete math with a C grade or higher, high school students who complete Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes, English learners redesignated as proficient and high school graduates completing college entrance requirements. He also said there are fewer suspensions and expulsions.
Hanson lauded the decisions of the Board of Trustees and said they never get the praise they deserve. Even in the face of budget cuts, he said, trustees prioritized student investment.
But Hanson admitted the district faces many challenges, namely a widening opportunity gap for disadvantaged students. He called it “the intergenerational curse,” describing generations of families who grow up in poverty, with single mothers and absentee fathers. The only solution, he said, is education.
“They’re counting on us,” he said, “every single one of those kids.”