Last week, people were talking about an item on the Fresno Unified School District’s board meeting agenda that would mean raises for the district’s highest-paid employees, including Superintendent Michael Hanson.
By Monday, the agenda item was crossed out in red on Fresno Unified’s website, and the district issued a statement saying the recommendations were merely a “placeholder,” despite sources’ claims that raises were, in fact, to be discussed.
Wednesday’s agenda – the last public school board meeting until August – had included items to “discuss and approve” revisions to employment agreements for Hanson, Chief Financial Officer Ruthie Quinto, Chief Academic Officer Kim Mecum and Chief Human Resources Officer Paul Idsvoog. Combined, the four district officials make about $870,000 annually in regular pay, not including stipends, car allowances or other extra compensation.
The proposal was met with criticism. The Fresno Teachers Association, and some Fresno Unified trustees, pointed to the district’s financial uncertainty amid a federal investigation of school construction contracts and a related court case that still is pending.
The district would not release details to The Bee about what the proposed contract revisions would have entailed. That information was set to be released to trustees Friday evening before the district pulled the item from the agenda, but was never delivered.
Maybe (Hanson) was polling board members about a raise and realized he didn’t have the votes.
Fresno Unified Trustee Brooke Ashjian
“If and when these agenda items are brought forward, the agenda language and the backup material in the form of amended contracts will be available,” district spokesman Miguel Arias said Monday.
“Subsequent discussions between board leadership and the superintendent highlighted the need for additional research on potential amendments to those contracts, which could not be completed in time to amend the agenda and prepare the necessary backup material. Therefore, agenda items were pulled.”
Fresno Unified Trustee Brooke Ashjian said he still has questions.
“Why they did it that way, I have no idea,” Ashjian said of Wednesday’s abnormal agenda. “Maybe (Hanson) was polling board members about a raise and realized he didn’t have the votes, and so they pulled it.”
Terry Francke, general counsel for Californians Aware – an organization specializing in public forum law – said agencies will use placeholders on agendas to broadly outline an issue and oftentimes will push an item to a later date if there is insufficient information. But this is different, he said.
“It’s a reference to some very vague, categorical heading … But I don’t think I’ve heard of a placeholder being this specific. I’ve never seen that,” Francke said.
Peter Scheer, director of the First Amendment Coalition, also said the item in question is not a typical placeholder.
“It sounds like they put it out there with the intention of having a full-fledged discussion and then decided for whatever reason that they did not want to do that,” he said. “Sometimes there are placeholders, but it wouldn’t be something that’s potentially controversial.”
Representatives for the city of Fresno and Clovis Unified School District said their use of placeholders on public meeting agendas is much different than the Fresno Unified example. Both local agencies said they would not pull an item from an agenda before it was time for the board meeting.
“Counsel has pulled things the day of many, many times. That’s not unusual because you have to have all the information you need in order to go forward. So, we will pull it in the open session,” Fresno City Clerk Yvonne Spence said. “But we don’t cross things out. We don’t do that.”