Editorial: Fresno Unified board abdicates its role in federal case

Valerie Davis and Michael Hanson
Valerie Davis and Michael Hanson jwalker@fresnobee.com

Facing one of the biggest crises in district history, a majority of Fresno Unified school trustees are content to let Superintendent Michael Hanson run the show rather than perform their elected duty – which is to lead.

Board President Cal Johnson and trustees Valerie Davis, Christopher De La Cerda and Janet Ryan all act as if the FBI’s investigation into how the district awarded no-bid construction contracts is no big deal.

It is a big deal – a fact that should have been confirmed for the board majority when Hanson sought to have the district hire an attorney for himself, Chief Financial Officer Ruthie Quinto and Chief Operations Officer Karin Temple at an emergency executive session meeting Oct. 13.

De La Cerda didn’t attend the meeting, otherwise Hanson probably would have gotten what he wanted: taxpayers footing the bill for a high-priced lawyer should the superintendent face criminal charges.

Before the meeting, Hanson – without board approval – had asked a local attorney to research whether it would be legal for the district to pay for a criminal defense lawyer to represent the superintendent and other top district officers. The attorney then made a presentation during the executive session.

It is clear to us that Hanson is trying to dictate the district’s legal strategy amid the FBI investigation, and that shouldn’t be the case. He has an obvious conflict of interest.

Since the federal grand jury subpoena was served on the district Aug. 27, the superintendent has operated as he pleases. Fault for that rests with the four trustees who back Hanson regardless of facts or circumstances.

While Fresno Unified flounders, the captains (a cheerleading board majority) are sitting in deck chairs and gazing at the scenery.

It’s past time for them to lead the district and exercise the authority entrusted to them by Fresno Unified voters.

The board’s assignment is to set policy and provide oversight. The superintendent’s job is to carry out those policies.

Sadly, the members of the board majority long ago abdicated their responsibilities.

With the FBI investigating Fresno Unified, we can only hope that the four trustees put down their pompoms and start looking out for students, teachers, staff and taxpayers.