Imagine a Fresno Unified student telling a teacher that an important assignment wouldn’t be ready until two or three months past the deadline.
Now imagine the teacher asking why and the student responding, “It’s a difficult assignment.”
The teacher then says, “I recognize that it’s not easy, but it’s important. Did you ask for help?”
The student answers, “Yes, just last night.”
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The Fresno Unified School District board of trustees is setting a poor example for students with its tardy response to a federal subpoena for documents related to school building projects with the Harris and the Bush construction firms. The subpoena was served in August.
The documents were supposed to be given to the U.S. Attorney’s Office by Thursday, but an attorney hired by the district to help comply with the subpoena has said that it will take a couple of months to gather everything. The attorney, Carl Faller, also says that Fresno Unified is working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to set a more realistic deadline.
We agree with the district that answering the subpoena is a massive undertaking. Fresno Unified undoubtedly will turn over many thousands of pages of contracts, emails, text messages, phone records and meeting minutes. But the trustees knew this last summer when the district received the subpoena.
Down the line, it’s conceivable that Fresno Unified and Harris Construction could end up legal adversaries instead of the legal teammates they appear to be now. Also yet to be decided: whether Fresno Unified – meaning the taxpayers – is on the hook for Harris Construction’s legal bills. It’s a tangled and expensive mess. And every day the board drags its feet the costs soar higher.
Why then did trustees wait until Nov. 18 – one day before the subpoena deadline – to hire Discovia, a San Francisco-based company that helps organizations comply with electronic evidence collection in litigation or investigations?
There are no answers for that question, other than foot-dragging and incompetence. It appears that instead of realizing the seriousness of this federal investigation and its potential consequences, a majority of the trustees are simply wishing that the probe magically goes away.
The sad thing is, Fresno Unified is spending money that instead should be going to the classroom to help 73,000 students become career or college ready. The contract with Discovia is for $98,000.
Sadder still is that if the board of trustees, in concert with Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson, hadn’t stretched the boundaries of lease-leaseback construction contracts beyond what the 5th District Court of Appeal later deemed acceptable, the district wouldn’t be in this mess.
The public needs to understand that this controversy isn’t ending anytime soon.
In addition to the federal investigation of the district, there is contractor Stephen Davis’ lawsuit against Fresno Unified and Harris Construction for its awarding of a no-bid contract to Harris to build Rutherford B. Gaston Middle School.
That case has already cost the district about $250,000 and the bill to defend the district in the Fresno County Superior Court case could be double that. Should the district lose the case or settle with Davis, that’s more money out the door.
Down the line, it’s conceivable that Fresno Unified and Harris Construction could end up legal adversaries instead of the legal teammates they appear to be now.
Also yet to be decided: whether Fresno Unified – meaning the taxpayers – is on the hook for Harris Construction’s legal bills.
It’s a tangled and expensive mess. And every day the board drags its feet, the costs soar higher.