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As They Search for a Superintendent, Fresno Trustees Flunk Econ 101
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By Bill McEwen, News Director
Published 4 weeks ago on
May 3, 2024

The Fresno Unified School Board appears unwilling to make the cuts needed in the district's bloated bureaucracy to successfully navigate the tough financial challenges ahead. (GV Wire/Paul Marshall)

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When it comes to math, a majority of Fresno Unified trustees deserve an F.

Bill McEwen Portrait

Bill McEwen

Opinion

Not only are they seemingly oblivious to the numbers that tell the story of the district’s chronic student underachievement, but they’re also ignoring the financial trainwreck ahead.

Facing an ongoing structural budget deficit of $80 million, the School Board approved cuts of just $25 million. Meaning: There’s a good chance the district will burn through its unrestricted general fund reserves of $134 million faster than you can say, “Hey, where did all of our pandemic funding go?”

The slumping California economy is partially to blame for the district’s financial challenges. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s magical mystery accounting tricks aren’t doing Fresno Unified and other school districts any favors, either.

But the truth is, the trustees need to look in the mirror, take a deep breath, and promise to start asking tough questions ASAP. That would be in welcome contrast to their usual nodding approval of most everything Superintendent Bob Nelson and his cabinet send their way.

No Time Like Now to Ask Tough Questions

I want the board to do better. Which is why I’m supplying a starter set of questions:

Is it true that a structural budget deficit is the shortfall unrelated to the state of the economy?

Why has the district added 600 certificated positions over the last few years while it has 6,000 fewer students?

Why do we have twice as many department directors as we did three years ago?

Do we really need all these assistant superintendents? They’re multiplying like rabbits.

Are We Doing Anything About Bright Flight?

What is leadership doing about “bright flight” — the exodus of high-achieving students to neighboring school districts as soon as their families can afford to move?

Mr. Superintendent, why did you announce a moon shot — all district students reading at grade level by first grade — in April 2023 and then decide to exit for a job at Fresno State before the literacy initiative even got off the ground?

Shouldn’t we focus instead on getting somewhere close to the state’s goal of having all kids read at grade level by third grade?

Mr. Superintendent, is your decision to leave connected to the fact that the 8.5% raise we foolishly approved for you and your cabinet after the last teachers contract maxed out your annual pension at $330,000 starting at age 60?

Do Any of the District’s Top Brass Reside in Fresno Unified?

Show of hands, please. How many members of the superintendent’s cabinet reside in Fresno Unified? How many have children attending Fresno Unified schools?

A recommendation, please. Do you think it’s important for district leaders to have “skin in the game?” In the least, shouldn’t the next superintendent — unlike Nelson — live in the district?

One last question, Mr. Superintendent, before you depart. Can we really afford our latest Fresno Teachers Association contract?

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Bill McEwen,
News Director
Bill McEwen is news director and columnist for GV Wire. He joined GV Wire in August 2017 after 37 years at The Fresno Bee. With The Bee, he served as Opinion Editor, City Hall reporter, Metro columnist, sports columnist and sports editor through the years. His work has been frequently honored by the California Newspapers Publishers Association, including authoring first-place editorials in 2015 and 2016. Bill and his wife, Karen, are proud parents of two adult sons, and they have two grandsons. You can contact Bill at 559-492-4031 or at Send an Email

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