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Trustees OK Bullard High Security Fence, Deny Charter School's Independent Study Bid
GV-Wire-1
By gvwire
Published 1 month ago on
June 13, 2024
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Bullard High School will finally get a security fence after the Fresno Unified School Board voted 7-0 in favor of the project, Wednesday, June 12, 2024. (FUSD)

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Bullard High School will finally get its long-awaited security fence after the Fresno Unified School Board voted 7-0 Wednesday to approved a $2 million contract for fencing and security gates.

The project will align the northwest Fresno high school with many other district schools that have a single point of entry to campus to increase security for students and staff.

Board President Susan Wittrup, who represents the Bullard area, noted that safety and security were a top priority for Bullard parents and community in both a survey and listening sessions for a proposed new bond measure on November’s ballot.

Wittrup had previously warned that the Bullard community’s support would be crucial for a new bond measure to pass, since residents of northwest Fresno tend to vote in greater numbers than other parts of the district.

New Funding Source ID’d

Prior opposition by some trustees to the project appeared to melt away Wednesday evening. Trustee Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas, who had previously questioned why the project was on the Measure M funding list when the board decided two years earlier not to fund it, said her concerns about moving facilities money out of the Roosevelt area had been addressed.

Instead of Measure M money, the district staff found two new funding sources: $465,400 that was left over from the Measure X fund, and $1,569,049 in Community Development grant funds.

Trustee Keshia Thomas said she had previously opposed the fence project because of the change in pricing “all the time” but was happy with the pricing now “versus the pricing before” and could vote in favor of the contract.

However, there was no change in the contract amount of $2,034,449 to the low bidder, Harris Development Corp. of Fresno, from when the contract first appeared on the April 24 agenda.

Community Support Important

Trustee Claudia Cazares said that although she had been accused of having “ulterior motives” for opposing the project, she has opposed other large contracts “multiple times” and wasn’t just focusing on the Bullard fence. She was apparently referencing Wittrup’s contention that the board majority had voted in April against awarding the contract as political retaliation for Wittrup’s leading a community effort to convince the board to do a national search for a new superintendent.

Cazares said hearing from parents, students, and staff about the importance of the Bullard fence helped change her mind to a yes vote.

Board Clerk Valerie Davis, who had voted against the project when it surfaced two months ago, told the district staff to make sure that all future new building projects will automatically include security fencing.

“So I would ask going forward that it never be a discussion or a negotiable item by the community or by board members, that if we put up the buildings, we secure them too, and put (up) the necessary fences and cameras,” she said.

Before the board’s vote, Darius Assemi, president of Granville Homes and publisher of GV Wire, urged the board to approve the fence contract.

“I hope that you all vote yes for that. It was part of Measure M, so a no vote on the fence would be a vote against safety and security for the kids that attend Bullard and for the parents of those kids,” he said.

Assemi said that if the board acted otherwise, the community would need to know before voting on an upcoming bond measure that the board had denied projects that were already part of an earlier bond measure.

Charter School Revision Rejected

Also Wednesday, the School Board rejected a change to the charter of the School of Unlimited Learning that’s operated by the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission. School officials wanted to provide only independent study instead of a hybrid of independent study and classroom instruction, which would necessitate the School Board approving a “material revision” to the charter.

Fresno Unified staff had recommended “conditional” approval for the material revision. The school’s full charter is not up for renewal until 2026.

The district’s charter office reported that the school had already switched to 100% independent study starting in the 2021-22 school year, which put SOUL out of compliance with its charter that specifies a mix of both. The school made the change without first seeking the School Board’s approval of a material charter revision. SOUL later reinstated classroom instruction, but fewer than two dozen students out of the school’s more than 200 students are in classes while the remainder are on independent study.

Only a handful of students want to continue to have in-person classes next year, and switching to 100% independent study would free up instructors for more one-on-one in-person time with students, school officials said.

Concerns about Student Outcomes

But Fresno Unified trustees raised numerous questions about the independent study, noting that the school’s students — many of whom are homeless or foster, or whose families struggle with food and housing insecurity — are low-performing on state assessment tests and have low graduation rates.

School officials noted that as a DASS school — Dashboard Alternative School Status, a designation set by the state for schools serving high-risk students — SOUL measures student outcomes differently, such as graduation rates or student progress on assessment testing.

But board members questioned how the school’s students would be able to improve their academic performance and graduation rates through independent study, when the district report showed that SOUL students attending class had better outcomes than the students in independent study.

Thomas expressed concerns about the board’s review, saying she hoped that SOUL would be able to avoid a “lynching or the over-the-top craziness that happened with another charter school.” She apparently was referencing the board’s review and approval of Golden Charter Academy’s material charter revision earlier this year.

Thomas was previously a board member of Golden Charter, which was founded and is headed by her son-in-law.

But she was clearly torn when the board first considered a motion to deny SOUL’s charter revision, which failed by a 3-2 vote, with Jonasson Rosas, Islas, and Davis voting in favor of the denial, Cazares and Wittrup voting against, and Thomas and Trustee Andy Levine abstaining. Levine, citing a potential for conflict of interest, had earlier recused himself and left the room during the discussion and vote.

But a motion to approve the conditional revision also failed by a 2-4-vote, with Cazares and Wittrup voting in favor, Islas, Jonasson Rosas, Thomas, and Davis voting against, and Levine abstaining.

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