Marek Warszawski

Controversial Fresno Unified trustee won’t resign. Voters need to recall this bully

My first and only in-person conversation with Terry Slatic came in January, at a northwest Fresno restaurant, shortly after video surfaced showing the Fresno Unified trustee’s tussle with a Bullard High student.

After about an hour of asking questions and listening to responses from Slatic and his attorney, Charles Manock, it was my turn to interject.

“A lot of people are angry at you about this,” I said. “But you know, 90 percent of them probably would forgive you or move on if you just apologized.”

Slatic looked at me like I was speaking Dutch, then made it clear no apology would be forthcoming.

At first I assumed Slatic’s lack of contrition was rooted in his military background. Marines don’t retreat, and they sure as heck don’t say sorry.

But now that Slatic is again taking flak, this time for reprimanding Bullard cheerleaders that angered many girls and their parents weeks after the widely publicized blackface and n-word incident involving members of the JV squad, I realize there’s another explanation:

Slatic doesn’t believe he did anything wrong. Not six months ago when he got triggered by a mouthy 16-year-old, and not now.

“Leaders don’t dwell on whether they’re liked or not, they dwell on whether what they’re doing is for the greater good,” Slatic told me over the phone last week. “The right thing is rarely the popular thing.”

Completely in the wrong

There you have it. Slatic is convinced he’s doing the right thing, even when completely in the wrong.

This mindset, I suggest, is the reason Slatic sat expressionless in his seat Thursday night at a special meeting of the Fresno Unified Board of Education as speaker after speaker lambasted him for his actions of July 10.

Cheer parents tore into Slatic for “barging in” on practice and rebuked him for threatening and intimidating their daughters. A 14-year-old cheerleader likened him to “a wrecking ball.” On multiple occasions, he was called “unstable.”

How did Slatic respond to their anger and pain, much of it coming from his own Bullard constituents? With stone-faced silence.

Once the 90-minute public comment session ended, Slatic’s fellow trustees took their turn. Keshia Thomas criticized him for bullying Superintendent Bob Nelson and fellow trustees. Carol Mills called for an investigation and formal censure. Veva Islas called for him to resign or be recalled.

After lots of angry shouting from the standing room-only crowd, the Board voted 5-0 to disapprove of Slatic’s conduct, require him to have an escort on future visits to any Fresno Unified campus and form a committee to consider a formal censure.

Resign? ‘Not in a million years’

Through it all, Slatic remained stoic. When asked by reporters following the three-hour meeting if he would heed calls to resign, he replied, “Not in a million years.”

Why resign when you truly believe you’ve done nothing wrong?

As described by the California School Boards Association, the role of the school board “is to ensure that school districts are responsive to the values, beliefs and priorities of their communities.”

Board members fulfill this role in five ways: setting direction, establishing structure that is effective and efficient, providing support, ensuring accountability and providing community leadership.

Nowhere in there does it say trustees should storm into meetings, harass staff members and district officials, rip backpacks off students’ shoulders and cause girls to burst into tears.

But if Slatic’s term ended today, months into his four-year term, that is exactly what he’ll be remembered for. The man is a walking lightning rod.

FUSD trustee Terry Slatic listens as many spoke against him at the Fresno Unified School Board meeting Thursday, July 18 2019 in Fresno. ERIC PAUL ZAMORA

At this point anyone who expects the 59-year-old retired Marine major to tone down his act or toe some imaginary line is kidding themselves. This is who Slatic is. Completely unbowed and totally convinced of his own righteousness.

A formal censure, which Slatic’s fellow trustees said they’ll take up at their next meeting in August, is a symbolic punishment. Removing him from his seat requires the will of the voters in his district. Some Bullard parents and community members are discussing a recall effort.

Treading on thin ice

This is where Slatic could be treading on thin ice. Of the 21,404 votes cast for the District 7 seat in November’s election, Slatic received 34.2 percent – by far the smallest winner’s share of the four contested seats. Which makes him rather vulnerable if a recall drive gains momentum.

As the father of a former Bullard cheerleader, Slatic considers himself “a cheer dad.” Which means cheer parents should be his people. However, his misguided attempt at discipline and accountability only served to incense those would-be supporters.

For someone presumably trained in military strategy, this is the sort of tactical blunder you’d expect from Col. George Custer.

Slatic serves on the Fresno Unified Board of Education at the blessing of the voters in his district. They voted him in, so it’s up to them to vote him out. If that doesn’t happen, it’s because they approve of the job he’s doing and how he represents their interests. Simple as that.

Expecting Slatic to suddenly realize the error of his ways, or asking him to turn over a new leaf, is a fool’s errand. This is who he is, and he’s not about to apologize.

The question now is what the Bullard community plans to do about it. If anything.

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Marek Warszawski writes opinion columns on news, politics, sports and quality of life issues for The Fresno Bee, where he has worked since 1998. He is a Bay Area native, a UC Davis graduate and lifelong Sierra frolicker. He welcomes discourse with readers but does not suffer fools nor trolls.