In the nearly eight months since Terry Slatic was sworn in as a Fresno Unified trustee, the school district has spent more than $100,000 paying for investigations into his conduct and legal fees.
That number will likely increase, documents show.
The district has paid more than $68,000 in legal fees, plus nearly $45,000 for an investigator and about $900 in other costs, for a total of $114,104.57, according to information obtained by The Bee through a public records request.
Investigators are now reviewing another incident involving Slatic. The cost of that investigation won’t be known until it is complete, said Amy Idsvoog, a spokesperson for the school district.
The district also will pay additional fees for work done in July preparing a censure of Slatic. At its meeting Wednesday night, the board voted 6-0 to censure Slatic.
The district has investigated three incidents regarding Slatic’s behavior at Bullard High. The findings of two investigations concluded Slatic broke board policies, and the other report questioned Slatic’s credibility.
The three completed investigations involve incidents with an Army recruiter, wrestling coach and one in which Slatic grabbed the backpack of a Bullard student and an altercation ensued. The investigation currently underway stems from a cheer meeting in which Slatic allegedly threatened to bar cheerleaders from attending cheer camp if they continued discussing a blackface incident involving two junior varsity girls.
At a special school board meeting in July, Carol Mills said she’d never seen a trustee conduct himself on a school campus the way Slatic has.
“I have been on the board longer than anyone else sitting on the dais tonight,” she said. “…In that time, we have never had a trustee who has engaged in these types of behaviors that have generated these responses and these actions. …The number of complaints against a trustee haven’t ever risen to this level.”
Trustee Valerie Davis and Mills both were elected to the school board in 2004. Davis was absent from the special meeting in July.
Slatic said the school district should focus its attention elsewhere, instead of investigating him. He also alleged the investigations are corrupt.
“I think it’s amazing that everyone is worried about investigating a trustee when we have a school district with 5,400 kids who just got diplomas and on average read and do math at the sixth-grade level,” he said, referring to Fresno Unified’s 2019 graduates.
Slatic said the district hasn’t sought bids for investigators in years. The result, he said, is investigators who have become corrupt and “buddy buddy” with top administrators and begin investigations with “predetermined outcomes.”
“How can this district be allowed to go so far over the line of sanity?” Slatic said. “And nobody’s noticed.”
While the district has contracted with the same investigators for years, new investigators also have been added, Idsvoog said.
Trustee Veva Islas said the 114,104 cost estimate is probably low, given that staff time was spent processing the complaints and lining up investigators. That amount can’t easily be quantified and was not included in the cost estimate.
“It is just a huge exhaust,” she said. “The unfortunate thing is that those monies don’t just come out of a fund set aside for the Bullard region. In a sense, the Hoover region, McLane region, Roosevelt region and Fresno High region are all having to pay for his inappropriate behavior.
“To me, that’s really egregious,” she said. “That money could’ve been so much better served supporting students or staff.”
Islas said instead of taking responsibility, Slatic continues to “deflect and blame others.”
Davis said that while she understands the investigations are necessary, they’re a distraction from what the district should be doing: “Teaching and learning.”
“This is a distraction from what we try to teach our students with bullying, being respectful and being courteous,” she said. “The trustee is an embarrassment and his actions pose a legal risk for the district and the safety of our students.”
Davis said in the 15 years she’s been on the school board, the trustees have never resorted to a censure.
The proposed censure resolution notes other behavior from Slatic didn’t necessarily result in formal complaints, but negatively affected staff morale. The censure alleges Slatic raised his voice to district staff and other trustees on several occasions and made inappropriate demands that exceeded his authority as a board member.
“Trustee Slatic has refused to accept responsibility for his actions. Instead, Trustee Slatic discredits his accusers and disseminates confidential information…” the censure says.
If approved, the censure would prohibit Slatic from attending internal staff meetings and require him to notify school administrators. He would also have to sign in as a visitor whenever attending a school campus and be required to have an escort.
The censure also would remove Slatic from committees or leadership roles as a trustee until he completes an anger management program.
If he completes a program, the board would re-evaluate his conduct at a public meeting to determine whether he complied with the censure and whether to reinstate him on committees or leadership roles.
Slatic said the proposed censure goes beyond the legal scope and definition of a censure and crosses the line to imposing sanctions.
“It’s a closely defined word. It means you can tell someone they’re ugly, their mother dresses funny and you don’t like what they’re doing,” he said. “It doesn’t mean you can stop elected officials from carrying out their duties in their district. That’s called disenfranchisement.”
Slatic said if the censure is passed the way it’s written and he’s effectively “sanctioned,” he’d consider legal action.
“I’m pretty sure if we have to play lawyer-lawyer games, some judge will end up going, ‘Yeah, censure and sanction are not the same thing,’” he said.
Islas was on the board subcommittee that wrote the censure, along with Trustees Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas and Keshia Thomas. Islas said she believes the anger management classes would help Slatic avoid engaging in further inappropriate behavior.
“I think the most important thing in this is probably the thing he’s least interested in doing, which is seeking some type of support or anger management,” Islas said. “I don’t think he sees his behavior as a problem. I am worried he’s not going to do anything to gain the skills that will prevent him from being in this position again.”