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Potties for Portables? Fresno Schools Spending Proposal Questioned



Fresno Unified is planning to remodel portable classrooms, including adding a bathroom, at Jefferson Elementary. (Shutterstock)
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Should taxpayer dollars be spent on improvements for portable classrooms, including adding bathrooms?

This was the topic of a discussion at last week’s Fresno Unified School Board meeting, when trustees considered spending nearly $1.4 million to install a new portable classroom for transitional kindergarten students, remodel the existing music room for another TK classroom, and install a new early learning play structure with rubber surfacing at Jefferson Elementary School.

Want to check out earlier School Zone columns and other education news stories? You’ll find them at Nancy Price’s School Zone Facebook page.

Trustee Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas acknowledged that with the expansion of transitional kindergarten, districts are going to need more spaces for younger children. In addition to TK, districts like Fresno are expanding their preschool offerings.

But spending money on non-permanent facilities is “like we’re putting a Band-Aid on something that needs to be a permanent structure,” she said.

Fresno Unified’s facilities needs are already massive and total billions of dollars, prompting discussion about a possible bond measure on the ballot in 2024. But that won’t take care of needs for the upcoming school year.

Alex Belanger, chief executive officer for facilities management and planning, said he agreed that new structures are “always better” and noted that Fresno Unified has more than 2,000 portables. “At one time under state policy, 20% of new construction had to also include portables as well. This is not one of those cases,” he said.

The portable in question was previously used by an outside agency for preschool, and its location on the Jefferson campus is appropriate because TK students can be properly separated from the rest of the students, Belanger said.

Also in School Zone: 

  • New scholarship program available for Fresno State students. Parlier High grads will get preference.
  • Smartboards already obsolete? They are in some Fresno schools.

TK Needs Keep Growing

When the School Board was promoting Measure Q, replacement of portables was a high priority, Belanger said. But for Measure X, the district asked teachers about their preferences, and some preferred portables because they had more autonomy in things like setting the temperature and more space, he said.

But nobody likes old portables, and they have a lifespan of around 30 years, Belanger said.

Superintendent Bob Nelson noted that the need to remodel the Jefferson portable is partly due to the large-scale growth of TK education in the district.

“Our current expansion plan for TK is actually more aggressive than the permanent structures that our district can hold,” he said. ” … I don’t dispute the reality that portables are substandard as it relates to, like, what you have at Fig Garden or what you have at Ericson or what you have at places that we’ve done a modification and we put in additional early learning facilities. But our facilities program moves slower than our desire to expand.”

New Fresno State Scholarship Program Announced

Parlier High School students will have even more incentive to major in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) or social sciences.

A new scholarship program funded through a $458,000 gift by the Edie Benites Charitable Foundation will provide five $3,000 scholarships annually to Fresno State students who show a demonstrated interest in volunteering with the Mexican-American, Latino, Chicano, and/or Hispanic communities and who have a 2.0 grade-point average.

Preferences will be given to Parlier High graduates and also to students with STEM and social sciences majors. The first scholarships will be awarded in the 2024-25 school year.

Benites, who died Oct. 5, 2021, was born in Mexico in 1946 and immigrated to the U.S. as a first grader. She excelled in Parlier Unified schools and later attended Fresno State, where she became a political advocate who promoted education. By living modestly, Benites was able to provide the scholarship bequest through the foundation.

The Edie Benites Endowed Memorial Scholarship Fund is established through the Fresno State Alumni Association.

Out with Smartboards, In with Whiteboards

Fresno trustees agreed last week to spend $526,333 to remove obsolete audio-visual equipment from classrooms, including smartboards and cabling, and to install whiteboards in their place.

Smartboards have the ability to connect to computers so teachers can do things interactively. Whiteboards, on the other hand, are kind of old school, with teachers using dry-erase markers to display lessons. (In School Zone’s old-school days, teachers wrote with chalk on blackboards, and sometimes they assigned students to take erasers outside to slam them together to eliminate built-up chalk dust, which surely was not good for School Zone’s lungs.)

The smartboards that were installed in elementary and middle school classrooms prior to 2010 are no longer supported by the manufacturer, have the ability to run only a limited number of apps, and the video and audio quality “reflects what was available in 2010,” district spokeswoman Nikki Henry told School Zone.

But there will be more than whiteboards in some classrooms. The School Board also voted to spend $6.4 million on 1,015 “interactive display panels,” accessories, and services.

“The interactive panels that are replacing the smartboards have very high video and sound quality, providing a higher-quality learning experience to students wherever they are seated in a classroom,” Henry said in an email.

“The panels have a rich set of applications that come loaded on the panel. The apps are interactive, increasing both student and teacher engagement in activities. The panels come on height-adjustable carts, allowing for adjustment for students and staff. The panels also have a full Windows computer attached. This gives the classroom a second computer and display.”

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