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Fresno Trustees OK $2.1B Budget & $500M Bond Measure, But Question Special Ed Contracts
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By Nancy Price, Multimedia Journalist
Published 4 weeks ago on
June 21, 2024

Fresno Unified approved a $2.1 billion budget and placing a $500 million bond on the November ballot, but trustees also had many questions about special education staffing and contracts. (GV Wire Composite/Paul Marshall)

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The Fresno Unified School Board took mere minutes Thursday evening to approve a $2.1 billion budget for the next school year and a $500 million bond measure for November’s ballot.

Their speed was no surprise — the board had been receiving briefings on both the budget and the bond measure for the past couple of months, and Thursday’s speedy vote was pro forma.

The trustees spent most of their time and energy at the 80-minute meeting questioning proposed contracts with outside agencies to staff paraprofessional jobs in special education classes and a contract with a consultant to help implement recommendations by the Council of the Great City Schools to improve the district’s special education services.

Board members asked why district officials haven’t filled hundreds of paraprofessional and paraeducator job openings through direct hires.

Paraprofessionals and paraeducators assist classroom teachers and other school employees certificated by the state.

Three contracts with two outside agencies totaling $12 million were up for the board’s approval.

“We just really need to get to the root of the problem, which is why are we not able to recruit and retain paraprofessional staff that are district employees and are able to have some continuity with our students instead of trying to outsource some of these jobs?” Trustee Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas asked.

‘Not Prudent Use of Money’

And they questioned why the district would hire a consultant for a report that is still being updated and is not yet finished.

“I think that is not the most prudent use of our money,” Trustee Claudia Cazares said.

Trustee Andy Levine said he was concerned about not having enough paraprofessionals for the new school year in case the district’s hiring attempts through recruitment fairs aren’t sufficient to meet the needs.

“I don’t want to have any kind of lapse in services for our students to start the school year,” he said.

Clerk Valerie Davis noted that while a $4 million contract with the Stepping Stones group to staff paraprofessionals was meeting board opposition, a second $4 million contract with the same agency had been passed without discussion with other consent agenda items. If the district runs short of paraprofessionals after hiring fairs, that contract could bridge any gaps in services, she said.

Copy-Cat Plan

Board President Susan Wittrup noted that the agenda item to approve the district’s Special Education Local Plan Area Local Plan, also known as SELPA, had been pulled from the agenda so staff could revise it.

The plan, which is supposed to be submitted to the state by June 30 and will serve about 11,000 students receiving special education services in the 2024-25 school year, clearly had been “cut and pasted” from Clovis’ plan, Wittrup said.

“We’ve had budget overruns with special education, and frankly, that creates a lack of confidence in voting for these items for me,” she said. “And I would like to see these things improved. And then I would have more confidence in what’s coming across here, coming across the dais.”

Thursday’s meeting was the last for the School Board for the fiscal year that ends June 30. They do not meet again until August.

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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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