Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson said Tuesday that his decision to step down next summer is not related to a federal investigation of the district’s no-bid contracts or his critics’ calls for him to resign.
“I’m not running from a damn thing, I’ll tell you that,” Hanson said in a news conference Tuesday. “And I’m going to stand here and do this work. You will find me for the rest of my career – wherever that is – in the intersection of race and social class.”
Hanson was adamant that his move to leave in August, despite the board voting to renew his contract through 2021 in November, is not tied to Fresno Unified’s recent tumultuous years. The district has been taken to court over accusations that it favored a contractor to win multimillion-dollar school construction projects, and was served with a subpoena last year by the U.S. Department of Justice regarding those same deals.
On Tuesday, Hanson didn’t deny he has acquired his share of critics since being hired to lead the state’s fourth largest school district in 2005.
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“Unlike a whole bunch of other people in this city, for 12 years I have been standing right here … under lights like this, with cameras in my face, answering questions one after another about a whole slew of things and a whole slew of allegations – none of which have borne any fact,” he said.
“So the fact of the matter is people want to call me a liar; people want to call me a bad guy – that I’ve done A, B and C. I would say, ‘Prove it.’ I’ve been standing here in broad daylight doing this work.”
I don’t feel like I’m running from a thing. I feel like I’m leaving something dramatically better than I found it.
Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson
Hanson said his decision to leave the district is not related to recent controversies, and he downplayed the ongoing investigation. He said he and his staff’s and trustees’ records were turned over months ago.
“They’ve all been downloaded and taken by the authorities and I have not heard word one back in, I don’t know, 18 months or whatever the heck it’s been. What I consider an investigation is something where someone actually talks to me about a problem. I’ve not heard a peep,” he said. “In fact, I’ve heard more that this thing is all but done, but they (investigators) just don’t want to say it.”
Hanson specifically criticized The Bee for reporting on the investigation. As of April, Fresno Unified had spent $500,000 in taxpayer dollars for legal fees related to the “lease-leaseback” contract case, including costs to hire a criminal defense attorney in light of the subpoena.
“People continue to say it, including The Fresno Bee, because they think it’s a great thing to say. But candidly, we’ve not heard word one back from it. So I don’t back away from that … I told people early on here, and I just don’t think they believed me: bad press doesn’t bother me at all. It has happened repeatedly, and what I do is I get up every day and I lay it down for the youth of this city because that’s what they deserve.”
Hanson also said his departure is not related to a change in the makeup on the school board, saying that “literally has nothing to do with it.”
Janet Ryan – a longtime supporter of Hanson – recently retired, along with Luis Chavez, who is leaving to serve on the Fresno City Council. Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas and Claudia Cazares will be sworn in on Wednesday and both have said they’re not against considering voting Hanson out. Trustees Brooke Ashjian and Carol Mills have voted against Hanson in his annual evaluations for two years in a row, meaning there now is potential for a 4-3 majority against him.
12 years is a long time.
Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson
Hanson said Tuesday he is not resigning, and not stepping down, but “fulfilling his contract until August 2017.” He said, “There is no opening until I’m formally not here.”
Hanson, 51, said he does not have another job lined up and wants to work with youths in the future, but that “I would be shocked if my next move was to another superintendency.” He said that it’s time to focus more on his family, pointing out that he is the second-longest-serving superintendent in the state.
“I can’t press on people enough: 12 years is a long time,” he said. “In 2005 when I got here, we were a place that, candidly, no one wanted to come. I joked with the board at one point that that’s probably why I got hired at (age) 39 with no superintendent experience. But it has turned out, I think, exceptionally well … the district is in a very good spot, especially relative to where it was.”
Hanson spent much of Tuesday’s news conference applauding the district’s improvement under his leadership, pointing to increased graduation rates and a stable budget. When Hanson was hired, the district was in such financial trouble that it was on the verge of a state takeover.
He also slammed the Fresno Teachers Association, which called for him and other top leaders to be suspended until the investigation is closed. He says FTA’s current demands are unreasonable and put “adult wants” over children’s needs.
While Hanson said he is sad to be leaving, he said the job is difficult and that his successor will need a backbone.
“There’s no hiding. You’re not a state senator, a U.S. senator. You are meeting people at the deli counter, you’re trying to walk into a hair salon or put gas in your car and someone walks up and says, ‘Why would you do something like that?’ ” he said. “I don’t feel like I’m running from a thing. I feel like I’m leaving something dramatically better than I found it.”