Watch testimony against FUSD trustee Terry Slatic
An extraordinary outpouring of public anger, resentment and grief filled a special Fresno Unified school board meeting Thursday night, all directed at Trustee Terry Slatic.
The reason? His recent meeting with the Bullard High School cheerleading squad. In a nutshell, he called out the cheerleaders for “mean girl” behavior. They had used social media to criticize two junior varsity cheerleaders over an incident in the spring in which one of them wore blackface and said the n-word in a video posted to social media. The parents of the girl who wore blackface apologized and the family underwent counseling. The junior varsity girls were let back onto the team, which itself upset some on the varsity squad who felt a tougher consequence was needed.
Slatic said he notified district officials that he wanted to attend the cheer squad meeting on July 11. But parents and cheerleaders said he was not invited, that he barged in and proceeded to scold them. According to parents and group members, Slatic further threatened to have cheerleaders kicked off the group or kept from attending a cheer camp if they kept bringing up the blackface incident.
For his part, Slatic said he did not call out anyone by name. “Leaders don’t dwell on whether they are liked or not, they dwell on what they are doing is for the greater good,” he told Bee columnist Marek Warszawski. “The right thing is rarely the popular thing.”
Actually, a leader acknowledges when his behavior and words hurt others, apologizes for such and aims to make things better going forward. Slatic, a retired Marine major who holds up his leadership skills honed through a military career, has definitely caused pain. Here’s what speakers told the school board at Thursday’s meeting:
“The term is trustee, which means there should be trust.”
“What made me most upset about Mr. Slatic’s action was that he tried to silence my daughter.”
“He then threatened them, ‘If your parents or you talk about this, you will be off the team.’”
“My grandfather served 30 years in the Army, and he would have never done what you have done.”
“Getting on student’s cases — that is not your role.”
“He used fear tactics to try to force everybody to shut their mouths about this ‘silliness,’ as you say.”
“Mr. Slatic, you have given Fresno another black eye with what you have done.”
“I am appalled, and embarrassed, and worried for the safety of my child.”
“If you have any respect for yourself, you will resign right now.”
“I shouldn’t have to be up here as a 14-year-old girl to speak on behalf of a girl that did blackface.”
“This is not a way a man acts.”
Any politician confronted with such raw reaction would, at the very least, apologize then and there to the audience and his fellow board members. Such a public official would commit himself to mend fences and clear up any misconceptions.
But no such humility was shown by Slatic. In fact, when pressed by reporters on whether he might step down, his answer was defiant: “Not in a million years.”
This latest incident follows one in January when Slatic confronted a student at Bullard High over profanity the student directed at him and a colleague. Slatic grabbed the student, pulling off his backpack, rather than letting school officials handle the discipline.
Slatic is making it abundantly clear that his approach is take it or leave it — his way or the highway. He is a “leader,” which infers no one else is, including fellow board members and district administrators. Such arrogance is going to leave him isolated, for who wants to work with such a person? That, in turn, makes him less effective as an elected official.
He just began his term earlier this year, so there is still time for him to reflect and agree to be a positive force for Fresno Unified. After the January incident, The Bee advised him to work within the role he campaigned for — as a part of a seven-member board and not as some Lone Ranger riding into town to clean things up.
The stakes before Fresno Unified are too high for these ridiculous sideshows. The achievement gap for students of color persists. Teachers face daunting challenges trying to educate students who, in many cases, are hungry, or homeless, or have one or two parents incarcerated. Then there are the pressures for the workers of tomorrow to compete in a highly advanced technological world.
It is time for Terry Slatic to decide if he will really be part of solving such major problems. If not, it is time for him, as speakers said, to step down.