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Fresno Councilmembers Urge FUSD Board to Widen Superintendent Search
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By Nancy Price, Multimedia Journalist
Published 1 month ago on
March 19, 2024
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Fresno City Councilmembers Mike Karbassi and Garry Bredefeld are urging the Fresno Unified School Board not to initially limit the search for a new superintendent to district employees.

(Fresno Unified)” “has over 70,000 of our youth in there right now. The future of this city is directly tied to them. They are future police officers, our future firefighters, our future attorneys, our future taxpayers, and they are the workforce.” — Fresno City Councilmember Mike Karbassi

The district should look for potential candidates from across the state and nation for the best person to lead California’s third-largest school district, the pair said at a news conference Tuesday morning in City Hall.

Karbassi also said that School Board trustees should follow the lead of board president Susan Wittrup, who wants the district to mount a statewide search.

An in-house candidate might turn out to be the best qualified for the job, but that person should be able to stand up to competition when compared against other applicants, Bredefeld said.

“There very well may be somebody who, at the local level, can meet the responsibilities that are necessary to get the job done. But we’re not going to know that unless you open up the search, have a national search or a statewide search and they compete. Competition is good. We believe in competition,” he said.

“But when you have a rigged game, which is what I think is going to happen (Wednesday), then you do them a disservice when they’re selected and they haven’t competed, and you do the kids and the parents a disservice.”

Fresno Unified trustees are seeking a new superintendent to replace Bob Nelson, who is leaving this summer for a faculty job at Fresno State. The trustees are scheduled at Wednesday’s closed session meeting to discuss whether to limit the search to in-house candidates or widen it to applicants from around the state and nation.

Trustees appear to be divided over whether to initially consider only in-house candidates or to open their consideration to all potential candidates.

Taking Aim at Nelson

At the news conference Bredefeld launched a blistering attack against Nelson and what he said was the district’s misplaced focus on diversity, equity and inclusion, critical race theory, gender pronouns, and “wokeism” — all targets of the political right in recent years.

What Nelson and the district should have focused on was improving student proficiency in reading and math, which remains woefully low, Bredefeld said.

“If we’re just teaching them nonsense — woke, destructive nonsense, if we’re just teaching them about gender ideology and pronouns and there’s 4,000 genders when there’s only two, we are failing these kids,” he said.

Bredefeld aimed much of his criticism directly at Nelson, who he said has failed to move the district forward during his tenure.

“The current superintendent has failed these kids for over six years, and this School Board rewarded this failure by extending his contract,” he said. “Now, thankfully, Bob Nelson has decided to quit, which leaves the School Board with again their most important decision as trustees.”

District Response

Nelson was not immediately available for comment Tuesday morning.

Nikki Henry Portrait

“We have much to look forward to in our next leader, but any commentary that our current leadership has been anything but positive to the district just isn’t borne out in the facts.” — Nikki Henry, Fresno Unified spokesperson

District spokeswoman Nikki Henry released the following statement: “We’re grateful to see our community so engaged in the search for our next Superintendent as this role is critical to the success of the Fresno community at large. We trust our Board of Education to make the best decisions and are proud that they have taken the steps to elicit diverse, authentic feedback and priorities from our Fresno Unified families, staff, and community partners as shown in the executive summary we shared this morning.

“That being said, while we have much work to do to ensure our children can achieve their greatest potential, the leadership under Superintendent Nelson has been strong, stable, positive, and sets the next leader up for incredible success,” Henry said.

Under Nelson the district has achieved academic progress since the pandemic, achieved the highest bond rating from Moody’s at Aa3, averted two teacher strikes, passed a bond measure, provided laptops and internet access for all students, improved a foundation, and expanded early learning programs, she said.

The district has attracted outside financial support from Mackenzie Scott, the Wallace Foundation, Battelle for Kids “and many more,” Henry said. “We have much to look forward to in our next leader, but any commentary that our current leadership has been anything but positive to the district just isn’t borne out in the facts.”

What the Community Wants in Next Superintendent

The district on Tuesday released a list of the community’s top characteristics for a new superintendent that was based on listening sessions and an online survey in February.

They are:

  • Strong educational background and administrative credential
  • Experience throughout a district system and ties to the Valley
  • Transparent and authentic communicator
  • Strategic vision using data analysis
  • Strong community ties and experience with parent and family engagement strategies
  • Commitment to diversity
  • Leadership skills and a commitment to accountability
  • Innovative and adaptable leader

The district also released a summary report of the listening tour themes that was prepared by the consultants: “Overall, the report underscores the importance of finding a leader who possesses a diverse skill set, a strong commitment to equity and community engagement, and the ability to navigate the complex landscape of educational leadership effectively.”

Karbassi and Bredefeld acknowledged that they are elected to the City Council, not the School Board, but said they were speaking out because of Fresno Unified’s importance to the city in preparing students to have the skills to be successful workers and members of the community.

Fresno Unified “has over 70,000 of our youth in there right now,” Karbassi said. “The future of this city is directly tied to them. They are future police officers, our future firefighters, our future attorneys, our future taxpayers, and they are the workforce. And it’s really important that despite the challenges they face, they are fully prepared once they graduate to enter the workforce, they’re prepared to have those skills so they can succeed and thrive.”

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Nancy Price,
Multimedia Journalist
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

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