Gyms vs. a new school: Fresno Unified trustees debate how to spend $250 million bond

2016: Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson promotes Measure X bond

At a news conference in October 2016 at Duncan Polytechnical High School, Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson promotes passage of Measure X, a bond on the November ballot. It passed.
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At a news conference in October 2016 at Duncan Polytechnical High School, Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson promotes passage of Measure X, a bond on the November ballot. It passed.

Fresno Unified trustees met Friday to discuss how to spend a $250 million facilities bond passed by voters in 2016, a meeting that turned tense at times over a discussion of auxiliary gyms versus special education improvements and a new elementary school for the Sunnyside area.

The list of Measure X priority projects includes new CTE facilities, new inclusive classrooms at Starr Elementary, an elementary school for the overcrowded Sunnyside area and second gyms at the four high schools that currently have just one: Fresno, McLane, Roosevelt and Edison.

Board members were asked to indicate their priorities, as well, advocating for improvements that would most impact their areas.

Fresno High-area Trustee Carol Mills said second gyms are a matter of equity, as the four high schools with just one can’t accommodate all their P.E. classes or spring sports, requiring students to use facilities at other schools.

But Roosevelt-area Trustee Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas said that shouldn’t make additional gyms a priority.

“If it’s gyms and air conditioning versus classrooms and restrooms for our special ed kids, it’s not even a question for me,” Jonasson Rosas said.

Community priorities

Community members also spoke during a public input period that saw three speakers in favor of second gyms and four in favor of Juan Felipe Herrera Elementary, a proposed school in the Sunnyside region.

Speakers said Herrera Elementary would honor Fresno’s Mexican-American community by naming a school for the nation’s first Chicano poet laureate, a prolific and much-awarded writer who grew up in the San Joaquin Valley.

Juan Felipe Herrera, of Fresno, was named the nation's 21st poet laureate by the Library of Congress in 2015. He was appointed to a second term Wednesday, April 13, 2016.

A district presentation showed that the school would serve a practical need, too, as overcrowding at Storey Elementary requires a solution. Sunnyside-area Trustee Valerie Davis said the school has four lunch periods to accommodate the population, with the earliest starting at 10:30 a.m.

The new school has a $44 million price tag. Its construction would also necessitate moving Phoenix Secondary Academy to a dedicated space, adding $12 million to the total cost. District Chief Operations Officer Karin Temple said her office recommends the Phoenix move regardless of the board’s decision on the elementary school.

Special education advocate Chrissy Kelly spoke of the need to build inclusive classrooms at Starr Elementary, a project that’s listed as in design and is estimated to cost about $5 million. Kelly has previously addressed the board about the segregation that her son experienced as a student in a special day class that was held in a portable far away from the main school building.

Bullard-area Trustee Terry Slatic mentioned the Starr improvements among his priorities, along with fencing and softball field improvements for the high school campus.


Board president and Hoover-area Trustee Claudia Cazares also said that building additional gyms was a matter of equalizing access, as some students at the district currently did not have the same facilities available as others.

“You cripple those schools in building those citizens and instilling a healthy lifestyle,” Cazares said. “It’s not an amenity, but a need, at our schools.”

The meeting briefly turned tense as Davis and other Sunnyside supporters called attention to an anti-Measure X commentary that Mills penned with former trustee Brooke Ashjian; it published in The Bee in 2016 before the measure passed. A speaker said Mills was not entitled to ask for funding for her area since she did not support the bond.

“These students aren’t coming, they’re here now,” Davis said of additional development in the Sunnyside area that’s causing a population spike.

The discussion also centered on which projects to front-load, with board members disagreeing on whether to prioritize large projects or smaller ones like air conditioning. The purpose of the meeting was to provide information to Temple’s office.

The board’s next scheduled regular meeting is May 1.

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Aleksandra Appleton covers schools for the Fresno Bee. She grew up in Fresno before attending UC San Diego and the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.