The Fresno Unified School Board will consider taking the rare step of publicly reprimanding one of their own at next Wednesday’s board meeting.
But there seems to be disagreement among the trustees as to exactly what impact a censure might have on trustee Terry Slatic.
Slatic, who represents the Bullard High School area, is the subject of three district investigations into complaints of bullying and harassing behavior lodged by Bullard students and staff and an Army recruiter.
Two of those investigations were completed in July and found that Slatic may have violated board policies in confrontations with Bullard wrestling coaches and the Army recruiter. The third — which is looking at whether Slatic threatened or bullied cheerleaders in a July meeting — was launched after a fiery special board meeting on July 18 at which outraged parents and fellow board members criticized Slatic’s encounter with the cheerleaders. He had met with them on July 10 in the aftermath of national scrutiny that came after social media posts surfaced showing videos of a Bullard cheerleader in blackface and using the n-word.
District Issues ‘Civility’ Letter
At the July 18 special meeting, the board voted to ask Superintendent Bob Nelson to issue a “civility” letter to Slatic, barring him from the Bullard campus for 14 days and requiring him to have a district administrator accompany him on visits to any Fresno Unified campus.
Slatic said he’s not bothered by the two-week ban from Bullard, noting that it will end before the start of school on Aug. 12.
As for requiring a district official to escort him on campus visits, he said he’s certain there are less expensive solutions. Being shadowed by an administrator “doesn’t bother me in the slightest, it isn’t going to change a single thing that I do,” he said. “But, you know, we stepped over the silly line on this one.”
He contends that the district has spent $10,000 just on legal assistance to the ad hoc committee, plus the costs of the two completed investigations and pending investigation. “So, is that where you want your tens of thousands of dollars of tax money to go? That’s not for me to ask, but I want the taxpayers to know that that’s how this district is … using their tax dollars.”
Investigation Costs Mounting
District spokeswoman Vanessa Ramirez said she could not confirm the cost of legal fees accrued for July, when the ad hoc committee began its work. However, the cost for legal and investigative fees total $114,000 through the end of June, she said.
The board’s actions at the July 18 meeting also included establishing a committee to review the two completed investigations and recommend to the full board whether or not to censure Slatic. Board president Claudia Cazares named trustees Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas, Veva Islas, and Keshia Thomas to the ad hoc committee.
Thomas said Friday that she expects the ad hoc committee will wrap up its recommendation by Monday. The censure resolution is on the agenda for Wednesday’s board meeting.
Slatic said he doesn’t care “in the slightest” whether or not the board approves the censure resolution. Other than the public reprimand, there are no consequences to a censure, he said, “so why spend all this time, energy, and money doing something that has the weight of the tiny feather in a hurricane?”
Cazares: Censure Could Have consequences
But Cazares said there could in fact be consequences that come with a censure, including future removal from board subcommittees, resumption of the Bullard campus visit ban, and requesting Slatic attend additional board guidance workshops, “although we’ve had several in the past.”
“The hope is that the actions change and that things get better for our children. That’s what we’re here for.” — Board president Claudia Cazares
“The hope is that the actions change and that things get better for our children,” she said. “That’s what we’re here for.”
Thomas said Friday she was hesitant to talk about potential consequences attached to a censure resolution. “I haven’t spoken to the attorneys about being on the committee and what that means,” she said. “But I would assume that it wouldn’t be a true resolution without it.”
Jonasson Rosas and Islas did not return telephone calls seeking comment Friday.
Numerous Complaints Lodged
A series of complaints alleging bad behavior by Slatic began to pile up shortly after he won election to the board in November 2018. In January he was investigated by the District Attorney’s Office after he was captured on videotape in a physical confrontation with a Bullard student on campus. The DA decided not to file charges against Slatic or the 15-year-old student, who Slatic said had made threats against him and his aide.
Also in January, Slatic clashed with an Army recruiter on the northwest Fresno high school campus. Staff Sgt. Jeremy Cooper complained that Slatic harassed and belittled him, and he believed that Slatic’s conduct might have been racially motivated. Cooper is black. The investigation by the law firm Adams Silva & McNally that was released in July found that Slatic had violated board policies but concluded there was no racial discrimination in this incident.
In February, Slatic was accused by Bullard wrestling coaches of being hostile and aggressive during a dispute over whether to schedule the school’s wrestlers to a practice match at Clovis East. An assistant coach claimed that Slatic threatened to prevent him from being hired for future jobs with the district. A report by Adams Silva & McNally, also released in July, concluded that he likely violated board policy.
In July Slatic went to a Bullard cheer practice and told the cheerleaders that they could be dismissed from the squad or not allowed to attend cheer camp if they kept talking about the blackface post. One cheerleader filed a complaint alleging that Slatic came to the cheer practice “to bully and threaten the program and individuals.” The district investigation of that incident is underway.
Slatic has disputed the allegations and claims the district’s first two investigations were “weaponized” and not impartial. He declined to meet with the investigator for both probes.
Getting back to business
Both Cazares and Thomas say they want to wrap up the censure deliberations so the board can return its focus to its primary mission — making sure that Fresno Unified is taking the necessary steps to improve academic performance.
Thomas, who with Slatic was among the six Fresno Unified trustees to attend a Harvard Business School symposium for educators last week in Boston, said she came away with a profound sense of relief that she’s on the Fresno board and not other school boards where infighting has poisoned board relationships.
“Their boards are completely torn apart. They fight all the time, and we just don’t,” she said. “I’m not mad at Terry as a person. I like Terry as a person. I’m just not happy with his choices in terms of making sure that we’re doing what’s best for the kids.”
Slatic said he also gained some insight at the Boston symposium about what his job as a school board trustee entails. Based on his discussions with officials from school districts around the country, he said he “will be very carefully scrutinizing my broad definition of my oversight role here going forward, and almost certainly narrowing it at least a little bit.”