When it came time at the Dec. 18 Fresno Unified board meeting to vote on a proposed charter high school and a $30,000 communications services contract, trustees Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas and Veva Islas were missing from the dais.
It wasn’t their first absences in 2019. According to district records, Jonasson Rosas missed two special meetings, a regular meeting and a workshop, left one regular meeting at the end of the closed session, and slipped out of two other meetings — including the Dec. 18 board meeting — before reappearing hours later. Islas was absent from two regular meetings and one special meeting, arrived a few minutes late for a special meeting, and left a regular board meeting for more than four hours before returning.
Only two Fresno Unified School District trustees — Carol Mills and Terry Slatic — had perfect attendance at the board’s 22 regular meetings, seven special meetings, and a workshop in 2019.
Jonasson Rosas was present at the start of the Dec. 18 meeting when the board voted to elect Keshia Thomas as president and Valerie Davis as clerk, but picked up her purse and left the room when the board took a short recess to rearrange the trustees on the dais. She returned 2 1/2 hours later.
Two Items Rejected
In her absence, the remaining trustees voted 3-2 for the Aspen Ridge High School charter petition, which district staff had supported. The petition was rejected because it needed four votes to pass. The next step for the school’s advocates is to submit the charter petition to the Fresno County Superintendent of Schools.
The trustees also voted 3-2 to reject a $30,000 contract with the San Francisco-based firm TBWBH to help Fresno Unified with its informational campaign for Measure M, the $325 million bond measure on the March 3 ballot.
District staff had sought the board’s approval to outsource the work because of other demands on communications office employees, including upcoming Local Control and Accountability Plan community meetings, which help shape how the district directs its resources. Trustees weren’t opposed to the outsourcing but questioned why a local company could not also provide the needed info services.
Jonasson Rosas told GV Wire this week that she had a conflict of interest with the charter school petition and would have abstained on that vote. She said she was initially in favor of the communications contract but was open to the concerns of other trustees.
‘Important To Be Present’
But she agreed that good attendance is as important for school board members as it is for schoolchildren, whose tardies and absences are marked by teachers.
“I do very much think it’s important to be present,” she said.
Jonasson Rosas said her attendance dropped off in 2019 for a couple of reasons: She had surgery earlier in the year, and she had to attend several late-year board meetings of the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission that overlapped with Fresno Unified board meetings.
The EOC board was searching for a new CEO to replace Brian Angus, who retired at the end of the year. Jonasson Rosas is the commission’s strategy and communications officer.
Juggling Jobs Is Challenging
When asked whether it bothered her to miss Fresno Unified votes when she had to attend EOC board meetings, Jonasson Rosas said, “Well, unfortunately, being a school board member is not a full-time job. And, you know, as with many of my colleagues, I also have a full-time job and sometimes it necessitates the juggling. It’s just something that you have to do.”
She noted that attending School Board meetings is just part of the time commitment that’s required of trustees who also talk with constituents and district staff, and attend other meetings and school events.
“It could very well be a full-time position as our City Council and our (county) supervisors are in terms of responsibility and merit and everything else,” she said. “But that’s not the way the law is written.”
Also Missed Meetings
Islas, who missed two meetings in January — one month after she took office as a newly elected trustee — and the Dec. 18 meeting, declined Tuesday to be interviewed by GV Wire.
Board President Keshia Thomas, who missed the Sept. 11 workshop and portions of two other meetings, agrees with Jonasson Rosas that trustees need to make every effort to attend every board meeting, and also to show up on time.
“We try to be on time and we try to be timely because it’s important. It is important,” she said. “And to be there when you’re supposed to, that’s important too.”
But Thomas said trustees are the best judges of how to allocate their time.
“I can’t take away from anybody on that board to say that they don’t try to make sure that they do their regular day job and they serve the school board as hard as they can,” she said. “They really do. Everybody does. I’m not taking away from anybody where that’s concerned.”
Absences Should Be Rare
Slatic, a retired Marine Corps major who attended every board meeting, said trustees need to be on hand to do the board’s business. He says he wishes Fresno Unified constituents would pay more attention to trustee attendance.
“It offends me that anyone who doesn’t, barring the death of a close family member, have perfect attendance at these meetings,” he said. “It’s not like we have them every week, for goodness sake.”
The board bylaws state that board members can have their stipends docked if they miss meetings, unless the trustee has an illness, jury duty, or hardship that the board deems an excused absence and passes a resolution to excuse it, district spokeswoman Vanessa Ramirez said Tuesday.
Islas was the only trustee whose stipend was reduced due to absence in 2019, Ramirez said.
The board voted in September to approve 5% annual increases in the monthly stipend, starting Oct. 1. The old stipend was $1,500 and had been in effect since 2001.
Here’s Who Was Absent, Tardy in 2019
Jonasson Rosas: Jan. 28 special meeting, absent; April 3 regular meeting, absent; May 22 special meeting, absent; Sept. 11 workshop, absent; Nov. 20 regular meeting, left at 5:49 p.m., returned at 8:47 p.m.; Dec. 11 regular meeting, left at 5:26 p.m.; Dec. 18 regular meeting, left about 5:57 p.m. and returned about 8:40 p.m.
Islas: Jan. 15 special meeting, absent; Jan. 16 regular meeting, absent; May 29 regular meeting, left at 5:05 p.m., returned at 9:49 p.m.; June 27 special meeting, arrived at 8:06 a.m. (meeting started at 8 a.m.); Dec. 18 regular meeting, absent.
Claudia Cazares: Feb. 27 regular meeting, left at 6:14 p.m; Sept. 4 regular meeting, absent; Oct. 16 regular meeting, left at 7:19 p.m.
Thomas: Sept. 4 regular meeting, arrived at 7:05 p.m. (meeting started at 4:30 p.m.); Sept. 11 workshop, absent; Oct. 2 regular meeting, arrived at 4:50 p.m. (meeting started at 4:30 p.m.).
Davis: July 18 special meeting, absent.