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Unfair Advantage for School Board Candidate? Or Potential Land Mine?



Fresno Unified trustees voted in October to rename Forkner Elementary as H. Roger Tatarian Elementary. (GV Wire illustration)
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At last week’s Fresno Unified School Board meeting, trustees nominated five citizens to a committee that will recommend how the board should go about renaming schools.

The committee’s creation comes in the wake of controversy over the naming and renaming of district schools.

Check out my other School Zone columns at Nancy Price’s School Zone Facebook page.

Several were fairly well known: former City Council members Clint Olivier and Oliver Baines, nominated by Trustees Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas and Keshia Thomas, dance studio owner Judy Jo Wilson, nominated by Board President Valerie Davis, and Paul Mitchell School admissions officer Rochelle Martinez-Cantu, nominated by Trustee Claudia Cazares.

The name of the fifth nominee has been in the news of late: Andy Levine, a part-time Fresno State faculty member and senior advisor to the nonprofit agency Faith in the Valley, is a School Board candidate.

Levine, who was nominated by Trustee Veva Islas, is one of three declared candidates in the Fresno High Area 5 special election that will decide who will replace the late Carol Mills on the School Board. The winner will serve the remainder of Mills’ four-year term through November 2024.

The appointment could be a double-edged sword for Levine, said Tom Holyoke, a political science professor at Fresno State. On the one hand, it could raise Levine’s name recognition among voters in the Fresno High area. On the other, Levine could find himself on the hot seat, since school naming and renaming has become a hot political topic of late, Holyoke said.

“It could be as much harmful as it is beneficial,” he said.

Also in School Zone: 

  • The budding Clovis teachers union files an unfair labor complaint against the Faculty Senate.
  • Madera College associate’s nursing program is ranked No. 25.
  • Fresno Unified schedules a virtual Town Hall with Superintendent Nelson.

Three other committee members were nominated by Superintendent Bob Nelson: Chief of Staff David Chavez, district spokeswoman Nikki Henry, and Lindsay Sanders, the district’s chief of equity and access.

Davis will be responsible for naming two more to the committee. Until next April’s special election, there is no Fresno High Area trustee, so Davis will name that area’s representative. She’ll also choose someone to represent the Bullard High Area on the committee. Bullard High Trustee Terry Slatic’s choice of Andy Fabela, a longtime district critic, didn’t make it onto the list the trustees approved.

Fresno High student Maise Aguilar, one of the two student trustees, also will serve on the committee.

Davis said there was no formal application process for committee candidates, who submitted their names to district officials for consideration.

Central Unified’s School Renaming Committee

That’s not how they’re doing it in a neighboring district.

In Central Unified, where student Malachi Suarez has been joined by other community members in seeking to have Polk Elementary School renamed, trustees decided to create a renaming committee to establish a policy before taking steps to rename a school.

District officials have asked community members to submit formal applications, identifying their trustee area, the school or schools they represent, a brief summary on why they want to serve and why their voice would be representative, their history of service, prior or current experience on school committees, and a commitment to “active and respective dialogue.”

The applicants included Malachi, his brother Phoenix, and the boys’ father, Gabriel.

Earlier this month the Central Unified trustees tabled the renaming committee appointments to give more time for applications, especially from the areas represented by Trustee Shawn Brooks and Trustee Richard Solis where only a handful of people had applied.

The district’s goal is to have three community representatives from each trustee area plus three board members, including the board president, serve on the committee.

Two different groups are now seeking to represent Clovis Unified’s teachers as labor units. (GV Wire File)

Clovis Teachers Group Takes Aim at Faculty Senate

The Association of Clovis Educators, which in April announced it wants to represent district teachers as a labor union, has filed yet another unfair labor complaint with the state’s Public Employment Relations Board. But unlike the first two, this complaint targets the district’s Faculty Senate and its apparent successor, the Clovis Teachers Organization.

Here’s the background: For decades Clovis teachers haven’t been represented by a union, although other employee groups working for the district are in union-led bargaining units. Keeping teachers out of unions has been one of the district’s mantras, dating back to longtime superintendent Floyd “Doc” Buchanan.

But the pandemic and concerns over teacher safety fueled a growing movement to organize as a labor unit with PERB recognition. In its first two unfair labor complaints to the state board, ACE alleged that the Faculty Senate is funded and directed by the district and not an independent representative of teachers.

Now that the Faculty Senate also is seeking PERB recognition as a labor organization under the name of the Clovis Teachers Organization, ACE’s new complaint to PERB says the Faculty Senate is an “employer-dominated group designed to discourage unionization” that continues to unlawfully solicit and receive assistance from the district, including a vehicle, office space, and other support.

The complaint also alleges that the district uses the Faculty Senate to spy on ACE, with this email exchange as evidence: “On April 5, 2021 the Faculty Senate president emailed Assistant Superintendent Jager (Associate Superintendent for Human Resources Barry Jager), with the subject line ‘ace.’ She wrote ‘Now at 45 members.’ Assistant Superintendent Jager replied, stating ‘Roger that Ventura’ one minute later.”

The complaint to PERB also contains a quotation from a May 19 email from the Faculty Senate president: “Whereas the aim of Faculty Senate is to equitably represent all teachers and whereas Faculty Senate is not influenced by anyone other than our fellow Clovis Unified teachers, it is our sincere belief that Faculty Senate advocates for all CUSD teachers better than any potential union. It is therefore the view of Faculty Senate that it remain the sole representative and negotiating body of the teachers of Clovis Unified School District.”

But only five months later, the Faculty Senate voted to create the Clovis Teachers Organization and seek recognition from PERB as a labor organization representing the district’s teachers.

Faculty Senate spokesman Bill Buettner told GV Wire that officials were reviewing the PERB complaint and would have no comment at this time.

Talk with Bob

Got questions for Fresno Unified Superintendent Bob Nelson? Then you’ll want to tune into the virtual Town Hall meeting scheduled for this Thursday.

The district is asking to for questions submitted ahead of time using this link.

Madera Nursing Program Ranks No. 25

The Nursing Schools Almanac annually ranks colleges and schools with master’s, bachelor’s, and associate degree programs in nursing as well as licensed vocational nurse certification programs.

In the recently announced 2021 rankings, Madera Community College ranked 25th out of 87 California schools that offer associate degrees in nursing.

The rankings are determined by the percentage of students who pass the licensing exam on their first try. Madera students’ pass rate was 93.2%, and the number of students graduating annually averaged 8 over the past decade.

Other associate degree programs and their rankings: West Hills College Lemoore (50), Porterville College (53), College of the Sequoias (56), Gurnick Academy of Fresno (80), Fresno City College (83), and San Joaquin Valley College in Visalia (86).

Thirty-six schools in California that offer bachelor of science degrees in nursing were ranked, and Fresno State’s program came in at No. 21.

In addition, 95 schools or programs that offer licensed vocational nurse certificates were ranked as follows: Tulare Adult School (22), Fresno Adult School (31), Clovis Adult School (38), San Joaquin Valley College (57), Madera Community College (59), Visalia Adult School (65), and Institute of Technology in Clovis (78).

Not ranked were two accredited nursing schools in the Fresno area, Fresno Pacific University and the University of Phoenix, both of which offer bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in nursing.

Fresno State is the only college or university in the Valley offering a doctorate of nursing program as well as bachelor’s and master’s degree programs.

Nancy Price is a multimedia journalist for GV Wire. A longtime reporter and editor who has worked for newspapers in California, Florida, Alaska, Illinois and Kansas, Nancy joined GV Wire in July 2019. She previously worked as an assistant metro editor for 13 years at The Fresno Bee. Nancy earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her hobbies include singing with the Fresno Master Chorale and volunteering with Fresno Filmworks. You can reach Nancy at 559-492-4087 or Send an Email