Fresno Unified trustees agreed Wednesday night not to wait for a board bylaw on renaming schools before deciding to move forward with renaming Forkner Elementary School for famed newsman H. Roger Tatarian.
But the board majority found no need for speed when it comes to a potential censure for Bullard High area Trustee Terry Slatic.
The trustees rejected a recommendation to suspend a portion of the board’s censure bylaw that would require giving a targeted trustee five business days to review a censure resolution and prepare a response.
Wednesday’s meeting had no repeat of Slatic’s filibustering that shut down the Aug. 25 board meeting barely an hour after it had started.
Agenda items scheduled for the August meeting were heard at Wednesday’s meeting, including a presentation by Sal Gonzales, speaking for River Park developer Ed Kashian, about naming a school for Tatarian, a Fresno native. Tatarian rose through the ranks of United Press International, retired as UPI’s editor in chief, and then returned to Fresno where he worked with student journalists at Fresno State.
Gonzales, who was joined at the podium by pastor D.J. Criner of Saint Rest Baptist Church, noted the many contributions that Armenians have made throughout Fresno’s history and continue to make today. The School Board could recognize and honor those contributions by putting Tatarian’s name on a school, Gonzales said.
Criner said school namings are important to communities as well as students. He related how his daughter said she was proud to attend Edison-Bethune Charter Academy, named for Mary McLeod Bethune, a Black educator and civil rights activist, “because of the culture our community connects with that name.”
Time to Rename Forkner
Although Gonzales did not specify a school to bear Tatarian’s name, other speakers said it should be Forkner Elementary.
Author/journalist Mark Arax said the board should proceed apace with the renaming since Fig Garden developer J.C. Forkner’s history as a racist whose deed restrictions kept people of color out of some neighborhoods is well documented.
While other namesakes of Fresno schools are “complicated figures of history” — including Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover, namesakes of two Fresno high schools — Forkner was “a local developer who perverted the general plan for growth, and put in place a system of racial coding that allowed him to become one of the city’s wealthiest men,” Arax said. “Lumping him into a drawn-out study of all the other school names in Fresno is not only unnecessary but a tactic of delay.”
Trustee Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas and Board President Valerie Davis cautioned against moving forward with renaming Forkner Elementary before the board establishes a renaming policy. Davis said she didn’t want the board to put the “cart before the horse” and risk alienating people who might step forward in defense of Forkner.
Chief of Staff David Chavez said the renaming proposal will be up for a vote on the Oct. 13 meeting agenda.
The call to rename Forkner is a direct result of the board’s decision earlier this year to name the new alternative education campus at Ventura Street and 10th Avenue for Francine and Murray Farber. Even though a community survey by the district showed overwhelming support for the campus to be named for Tatarian, the board chose to honor the Farbers, longtime district supporters and philanthropists.
Censure Proposal Gets Nod
Later in Wednesday’s meeting, the board agreed to move forward with preparing a censure resolution against Slatic. Islas sent an email last week to Chavez saying she, Jonasson Rosas, and board Clerk Keshia Thomas wanted him censured “immediately.” As a result, the board was asked to consider suspending a portion of the censure bylaw and reduce the number of days that Slatic would have to review the resolution and prepare a response.
Islas, Jonasson Rosas, and Thomas are members of the district’s ad hoc censure committee.
Slatic said he had no comment on the censure proposal because he had not been provided details about the conduct in question. Providing a specific description of such conduct is required for the censure resolution under the board bylaw.
But Trustee Claudia Cazares said she saw no need to short-circuit the notification, even if it meant delaying until October any consideration of a censure resolution.
She told GV Wire on Thursday that Slatic’s filibuster, which he said was necessary because the trustees have limited his one-on-one time with Superintendent Bob Nelson, was not the sole reason to consider a new censure. Slatic was previously censured in August 2019 after a series of incidents involving Bullard students, staff, and an Army recruiter, and it was reimposed in August 2020.
During his long and at times repetitive speech on Aug. 25, Slatic disrespected staff and inappropriately talked about constituents’ personal health information, she said.
Cazares said his behavior seems to have “escalated” since he received a letter on Aug. 11 from Davis notifying him that the censure was being lifted and he was no longer bound by its restrictions, which included preventing him from being on school campuses without an escort and from taking leadership roles on the board.
She said she and other trustees were unaware that the censure was being lifted until the letter was provided to him.