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Messer: Staff followed rules dealing with trustees
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Manteca Unified School District Superintendent Jason Messer disagrees with the San Joaquin County Grand Jury’s finding that the administrative staff didn’t follow proper procedures when dealing with board member Sam Fant.

Fant — along with fellow trustee Ashley Drain — were the primary focus of a scathing 28-page Grand Jury report issued Wednesday in response to complaints made by community members regarding the conduct of the Manteca Unified board.

The report also chided administrators for not following procedures in place when dealing with board members that in turn allowed trustees to bypass rules and create what the Grand Jury described as a “toxic climate” in the school district.

Messer said since the Grand Jury report primarily focused on board issues, it will be up to the six remaining elected trustees to decide how to respond to it. The board has a vacancy after the resignation of Alexander Bronson. He stepped down after the San Joaquin County District Attorney filed election fraud charges against him. Trustee Ashley Drain has had similar charges made against her but she has opted to stay on the board. Drain is being targeted by a recall effort.

The report will be officially presented to the board when they meet Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the district office on Louise Avenue. Messer is recommending that the board discuss their response at the next meeting when the budget will be the only other item on the agenda.

By law, government agencies must respond to findings of the Grand Jury but they are under no obligation to implement recommendations since it is a civil grand jury.

The Grand Jury reportedly interviewed 27 people before making findings and recommendations.

Messer noted that all administrators receive training in how to interact with board members. It is made clear that board members under the law only have authority when acting together at a legally scheduled meeting. 

Messer said after board members talk to administrators, the staff contacts Messer as required under established policy. Even when Fant was — in the Grand Jury’s eyes — running roughshod over staff and ignoring established district policies and rules in his quest to get an exercise program named after him (Fitness, Aerobic, Nutrition, and Training) put in place at August Knodt School, Messer was made aware of every interaction Fant had with other administrators after they took place.

Messer believes individual administrators may have inadvertently led the Grand Jury to believe they weren’t following policy put in place by the overall board concerning interactions with board members by failing to mention that had contacted Messer afterwards.

“The question (about whether they contacted the superintendent’s office) may not have been asked of them,” Messer said.

Wherever, Messer believes the report underscores the fact refresher course or additional training is worth doing and will be scheduled in the near future.

He noted board-administration interactions are not only covered when administrators are working on their degrees but it is also part of training they receive from other agencies such as the Association of California School Administrators and the California School Board Association.