Bob Nelson delivered his first State of Education speech as Fresno Unified’s superintendent at a luncheon Monday in downtown Fresno.

And he touched on issues one would expect a lead educator to talk about: the need for equity among students, transparency and accountability for the district, and the tense labor negotiations that could result in a teacher’s strike.

Perhaps the biggest news Nelson made was in regard to the district’s “data dashboard.” It provides real-time information on things such as enrollment, attendance, suspensions, progress toward graduation, student proficiency in math and language, etc.

Former Superintendent Michael Hanson implemented the dashboard a few years ago, but was criticized in some quarters for keeping the information largely under wraps — sometimes even away from the eyes of school board trustees.

But Nelson announced Monday that the dashboard would be posted on Fresno Unified’s website beginning Tuesday because the public deserves to see what’s going on in the district. The information, he said, would be broken down so that families could see exactly how individual schools are performing.

Nelson also said that funding sixth-grade camp for those who have trouble affording it and holding SAT/ACT college entrance exams during school hours demonstrated the district’s commitment to equity.

Labor Negotiations

Nelson discussed the potential strike, again in the interest of transparency.

“We believe our current offer is fair and balanced,” he said. He urged the audience to hold the district accountable to implement what is discovered during the fact-finding report, which is the next step in labor negotiations.

“A strike would be a devastating shot to our city and is something that should be avoided,” Nelson said.

That remark elicited this response on Twitter from the Fresno Teachers Association:

A fact-finding hearing is scheduled for next week.

Watchdog vs. Watchdog Update

A lawsuit between a watchdog group and the man they are monitoring over trademark infringement continues to wind its way through the legal process.

Fresno Watchdogs for Ethical Bidding has targeted Fresno Unified school board Trustee Brooke Ashjian since March 2016. Ashjian then filed incorporation papers in July 2017 for a group with the same name, taking advantage of the fact that the original group has not done so.

The person or people behind the original watchdog group remains unknown.

They are publicly represented by Merced attorney Kenneth Mackie. In the lawsuit, filed in August, Mackie does not reveal any names, saying they are protected by privacy. They are described as “an unincorporated association consisting of two or more individuals whose identities are protected by the right of privacy and the right of freedom of association, associated for the purposes of exposing alleged violations of the Political Reform Act of 1974 and conflict of interest statutes as they related to bidding on works of public improvement solicited by Fresno Unified School District.”

Mackie received a cease-desist letter when speaking at an August school board meeting, handed to him by Ashjian’s attorney. The purpose was to prevent Mackie from using that name for the group he represents.

The lawsuit also calls Ashjian’s conduct “despicable” and says he “intentionally misrepresented” the original watchdog group.

Ashjian filed his answer (the legal document to respond to the lawsuit), denying most of Mackie’s allegations. That practice is common for lawsuits.

The case will be heard by Judge Alan Simpson at the civil courthouse in Fresno. The parties are scheduled to meet in court on Dec. 12 for a demurrer hearing (the defense’s attempt to invalidate the lawsuit). There is also a Dec. 18 case-management conference hearing (update on progress of the lawsuit).

Mackie’s group is asking the judge to stop Ashjian from using the watchdog name. The group is also seeking damages (no amount is specified, just “a sum according to proof”) and attorney fees.

Payne’s Workforce Board Application

Eric Payne is an elected trustee of the State Center Community College District board. He wants to add one more item to his public service resume: member of the Fresno Regional Workforce Development Board. That board helps provide oversight for public funds dedicated to job development.

The position is one of 75 open appointments on various boards that the Fresno County Board of Supervisors are involved with. Payne expressed a desire to serve his community, when briefly chatting about the subject at the Fresno Unified State of Education luncheon Monday.

Supervisor Brian Pacheco of Kerman represents District 1, which encompasses the northwestern part of the county. He said that Payne’s application has been around for a month or so.

Payne is currently under investigation by the state Fair Political Practices Commission for campaign finance irregularities.

GV Wire has learned that Payne finally submitted his Statement of Economic Interests this past Friday (Oct. 27). The Form 700 is required for publicly elected officials to detail any potential conflicts of interest. Payne listed none. They are normally due April 1.

When contacted, Pacheco applied diplomacy to the situation: “I haven’t made a decision on who will be filling the District 1 vacancy yet.” But the supervisor said that he hopes Payne can get things straightened out.

“He has several issues to address before he represents the people of District 1,” Pacheco said.

 

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