More than 200 people showed up for a community meeting Thursday evening to question Fresno Unified School District Trustee Cal Johnson about his votes and actions.
“Basically, we want him to know that the community, teachers, the students are watching him and every vote that he makes,” said Simone Cranston-Rhodes, a political consultant for the Fresno Teachers Association. “We want him to know that he has to be accountable to the people who voted to put him in office for any of the decisions he’s made, including approving legal fees for the lease-leaseback scandal and for not speaking up to get smaller classroom sizes.”
Johnson took questions from about a dozen people during the two-hour meeting, which was organized by the teachers’ union and held at Saint Rest Baptist Church.
“I know the rumor was that the pastor forced Mr. Johnson to come here – that is a bald-faced lie,” Johnson said. “The moment I heard about this meeting, I said, ‘I’m going to attend,’ because Mr. Johnson believes in engaging people.”
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I know the rumor was that the pastor forced Mr. Johnson to come here – that is a bald-faced lie. The moment I heard about this meeting, I said, ‘I’m going to attend,’ because Mr. Johnson believes in engaging people.
Fresno Unified Trustee Cal Johnson
When asked why he voted to approve using taxpayer dollars for Superintendent Michael Hanson’s legal fees, Johnson responded that Hanson was paying his own legal fees – but did not give a reason for his own vote.
Teachers union president Tish Rice and executive director Louis Jamerson presented statistics from district data: For the 2014-15 school year, 4.6 percent of third graders were reading at grade level, 15.5 percent of eighth graders were proficient in math, and only 2.4 percent of graduating students were college-ready.
“This student data is alarming,” said Gennean Bolen, an instructor at Fresno City College. “I must also add that once many Fresno Unified students arrive at Fresno City College, they are not prepared. In fact, employers have written letters saying how disappointed, surprised and shocked they are at the limited readiness of these students.
“Mr. Johnson, how do you explain the increase in the graduation rate juxtaposed to the fact that 2 percent of our students are college ready?” Bolen asked.
Johnson questioned the statistic. “The information that’s saying that it’s only 2 percent (of students who graduate college-ready) – it’s my understanding that that information is somewhat erroneous – I don’t know for a fact whether it is or not,” he said, without elaborating further.
Included in the teachers’ union platform presented by Rice and Jamerson were calls to increase the teacher-to-student ratio, hire more nurses, social workers and counselors and for trustees to work with the union and members of the Stand with Students campaign when allocating district money.
“The school board trustee position – people don’t think about it very much and that includes voters, teachers, students everyone,” Cranston-Rhodes said. “But they actually control a budget of around a billion dollars. Fresno Unified is the largest employer in Fresno, so it’s a lot of power these trustee board members have.”
They actually control a budget of around a billion dollars. Fresno Unified is the largest employer in Fresno, so it’s a lot of power these trustee board members have.
Simone Cranston-Rhodes, Fresno Teachers Association political consultant
The southwest Fresno meeting was called because teachers union members have not been able to get their message out at board meetings, Cranston-Rhodes said.
“We feel like we’re going to have better luck meeting with trustee members individually than going to the board meetings and asking to be heard,” she said.
“We went (to the Feb. 24 school board meeting) and they gave us a couple minutes to speak,” Cranston-Rhodes said. Attempts to have time scheduled on meeting agendas to discuss the union’s platform were rejected repeatedly, she said.
At the end of the meeting, Johnson refused to sign a statement agreeing to the teachers’ union platform.
Jamerson said a follow-up community accountability meeting will be held with Johnson in September.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said Cal Johnson was the board president. Luis Chavez is the current president of the board.