Despite Wawona’s Crisis, 2 Fresno Trustees Opposed Contract with Sheriff’s Office
About an hour after a handful of teachers from Wawona Middle School had described, emotionally and in great detail, the disturbing and dangerous situations they say are constantly occurring at their school, the Fresno Unified School Board considered whether to sign a contract with the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office for a campus safety officer, otherwise known as a school resource officer or SRO.
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Over the objections of community members who say Fresno Unified should spend money on counselors, not cops, the School Board had already voted to restore Fresno police as school resource officers at middle and high schools across the city.
Wawona, located on a county island in central Fresno in the Bullard region, wasn’t eligible for Fresno Police assignment, so the district had negotiated a three-year contract with the Sheriff’s Office that would start in January. The cost for the first six months is $138,842.
If approved Wednesday evening, district official Amy Idsvoog told the board, the contract would start in January.
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But even as the pleas of Wawona staffers and the parent of a former Wawona student were still ringing in their ears, two trustees expressed opposition to the contract. Trustee Andy Levine, who represents the Fresno High region, acknowledged the “really heartbreaking testimonies” that he had just heard but went on to say that he opposed spending district funds on a school resource officer for Wawona.
Rather than responding the way “we’ve always done,” Levine said schools and the district need to dig deeper to find out why student misbehavior is soaring at Wawona and come up with solutions.
McLane Area Trustee Veva Islas, who was elected board president later in the meeting, said she wasn’t opposed to returning a school resource officer to Wawona but was making a motion to table the contract because she had a number of concerns, including its cost and the district’s oversight of the assigned deputy.
“There are a lot of issues with the contract that are red flags for me,” said Islas, who was the only trustee to vote in June against a contract with Fresno Police to provide SROs at middle schools. Levine, on the other hand, was among the 6-1 board majority that approved the contract.
Also in School Zone:
- First take the oath, then eat the cake.
- Madera College campus opens another building.
- State Center names the newest Muro de Honor (Wall of Honor) inductees.
- A Fresno State professor becomes a part-time Santa.
Delaying approval of the contract would delay its implementation next year, said Idsvoog, who noted that, for the most part, it was identical to the Fresno Police contract approved in June. Idsvoog, the executive officer for health services, safety and emergency response, acknowledged the higher cost of the contract, which she said was the result of economies of scale, as Fresno Police are providing more officers than the Sheriff’s Office.
Trustee Valerie Davis was blunt in her opposition to tabling the contract: “I can’t support tabling it. As we heard before closed session, there’s a number of situations happening (at Wawona), and because of our extensive community outreach that you conducted last year … when we had our other contracts up with PD, surveys came back, and our parents, our students, and our staff were in total agreement of having SROs, be it PD or the sheriff on the campus.”
The contract then was approved by a 4-2 vote, with trustees Davis, Claudia Cazares, Susan Wittrup, and Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas voting aye and Islas and Levine voting no. Trustee Keshia Thomas was absent Wednesday.
Oath of Office
Wednesday’s FUSD meeting was preceded by the traditional oath of office for three of the four newly elected or re-elected trustees. Mayor Jerry Dyer, a longtime friend of Davis, administered the oath to her holding the Bible that she had given him on his first day as mayor. Islas was sworn in by Aliyah Barajas, a McLane High School student, and Susan Wittrup, elected to serve the Bullard region, was sworn in by local developer Darius Assemi, a significant contributor to her campaign and a close friend. Assemi, president and CEO of Granville Homes, is publisher of GV Wire.
The oath ceremony drew a number of Fresno City Council members, political consultants, and other officials to the trustees’ board room, the first time they could attend in large numbers since the 2018 election. The swearing-in after the 2020 election was held via video connections because of the COVID pandemic and the need to continue isolating.
Missing from the event was Edison region Trustee Keshia Thomas, who district officials said was on vacation Wednesday.
Nikki Henry, a district spokeswoman, said Thomas will take her oath of office in January. As an incumbent (Thomas was elected to her second term in November) Thomas can continue to carry out her duties even if she hasn’t been sworn in yet, Henry said.
No word as to whether there will be cake in January.
Madera College Campus Keeps Growing
Madera Community College officials welcomed the latest addition to the Avenue 12 campus — the new Academic Village 2 building — with a ribbon-cutting ceremony last week.
Madera is one of four colleges, and the newest college, in the State Center Community College District.
The 38,000-square-foot building will house general education classrooms, distance learning classrooms, a student success center, an expanded library, labs for nursing, computers and criminology. To accommodate the college’s commuter students and staff, there’s an expanded parking lot on the west side of the campus.
“We are excited to open this state-of-the-art facility on the Madera Community College campus that will provide an expanded learning environment for our students,” Madera Community College President Dr. Ángel Reyna said in a news release. “This facility will enhance the look and feel of our growing campus and provide additional learning spaces such as a larger library, study and gathering spaces for our students to connect with our college and one another. On behalf of our faculty, staff, administration and students, I would like to thank once again all the Measure C voters for their support and investing in the educational future of their community.”
The project was built with $35 million in revenues that are collected from property owners in Fresno and Madera counties under SCCCD’s Measure C bond that was passed in 2016.
Newest Inductees on State Center Muro de Honor
State Center Community College District honored its 2022 Muro de Honor (Wall of Honor) inductees during a special ceremony last week at Arte Americas Casa de la Cultura in downtown Fresno.
This year’s inductees are Sara Aguirre, a Spanish instructor at Reedley College; Marisol Baca, an English instructor at Fresno City College; and Julie Reyes Dana, who recently retired as Fresno City College’s choral director and music instructor.
The Wall of Honor, which was established at Arte Americas in 2011, recognizes the contributions of outstanding Hispanic/Latinos. Those inducted onto the Muro de Honor must have either attended or worked on behalf of State Center Community College District at one of its colleges, centers, or the district office.
Fresno State Prof Helps with Santa Project
Fresno State math professor Dr. Tamas Forgacs set aside his slide rule (yes, School Zone is THAT old) and stepped inside a red-and-green striped Piper Warrior airplane this week for a special Christmas mission.
Forgacs, who has been with the university’s Department of Mathematics since 2007, flew the first leg (Fresno to Sacramento) of a flight to deliver Christmas presents to a Crescent City family of five. He’s one of a number of pilots who fly for Angel Flight West, a Santa Monica-based organization that provides free air transportation for patients traveling for nonemergency medical treatment, veterans support programs, disaster response, and medical supply transport.
He and other Angel Flight West pilots volunteered to fly “Santa missions” for deserving families, buying presents and then delivering them. When he shared his story with math department colleagues and Fresno State alums that are among his card-playing group, they decided this year that instead of their annual “white elephant” gift exchange, they would buy presents for the family.
The Crescent City family was a single mother with four children, the oldest an 11-year-old girl who had undergone a heart transplant.
“For pilots, we love to get up there, so anything that gives some meaning to what we love to do anyway is icing on the cake,” he said in a news release.