Embattled Manteca Unified School District trustee Sam Fant has one simple request: Show him the email.
The email in question is one the San Joaquin County Grand Jury used to paint Fant as a bully of sorts when it comes to dealing with staff plus accuse him and fellow trustee Ashley Drain of creating a “toxic environment” in the school district.
The Grand Jury report indicated Fant sent an email to district personnel regarding accommodating the Fitness, Aerobic, Nutrition, Training or FANT program for adults at August Knodt School that reads, “I have been contacted by multiple people that, the community program that I have been working hard on is being sabotaged by staff in our district . . . If there are any scare tactics or facts that are blown out of proportion in order to see to it that this program fails, it will be EXTREMELY DISAPPOINTING! And I am going to want the Facts on why things miraculously fell apart.”
District Superintendent Jason Messer confirmed that Manteca Unified technology staff conducted exhaustive searches of emails to and from district servers using numerous parameters for the search but could not come up with the email.
The district would not have a copy of the email if it wasn’t sent by Fant through his official district email or if it wasn’t received by district personnel on a school district issued device.
There is no way of knowing who showed the email in question to the grand jury as nearly two dozen individuals were interviewed and asked questions.
The email is just one example of why Tuesday’s Manteca Unified board meeting’s item to “consider, discuss, and give direction” regarding the grand jury report will be contentious at best. The board will have to decide whether they agree with 12 different points the grand jury made and what steps, if any, they plan to take to address them.
Also on the agenda is the equally emotionally charged issue of whether the board should censure Fant over his interactions with a classified employee. The board meets on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. in the district office at 2271 W. Louise Ave. The meeting could be continued until Wednesday at 6 p.m. if needed.
Fant also has asked for district documentation of a grand jury statement that as a trustee he pulled teachers out of their classrooms at Weston Ranch High while they were teaching classes and quizzed them about the performance of the principal.
Messer said that the district office never received a formal complaint concerning such conduct by Fant. The superintendent indicated that he had heard comments regarding Fant’s alleged conduct but that was it. Messer noted he is not aware of who testified before the grand jury or if an informal complaint was made to the site principal who is this case was Jose Fergoso. He is the principal that Fant along with Drain is blasted by the grand jury for targeting. Fergoso has since left the district after negotiating a deal to receive a year’s salary in exchange for not pursuing any legal action regarding personnel issues.
The report also zeroed in on the conduct of the two trustees elected in November — Alexander Bronson who has since resigned and Drain who is the target of a recall effort. Fant is also the subject of a recall effort.
The report sidestepped complaints about Drain and Bronson using fake addresses to qualify as candidates as that specific complaint had been forwarded to the Secretary of state’s office. The San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office has since filed felony charges against the two regarding election fraud. Drain also has welfare fraud and grand theft charges pending against her.
The Grand Jury contends the conduct of trustees has created a “toxic climate” in the Manteca Unified School District given their disrespect for each other, for employees, and for community members.,
The 28-page Grand Jury report included:
Fant getting an exercise class established contrary to normal procedures.
Fant assuming control of a district program.
Fant pushing to get the Weston Ranch High principal ousted.
Drain interfering with student discipline.
Boarding hiring a consultant who was a convicted felon without background check.
Fant provided a principal candidate an after-hours tour at Weston Ranch High.
Referenced an employee complaint filed against Fant.
Noted a Junior Cougars youth football banquet was scheduled by Fant, cancelled and held anyway circumventing district rules and having reduced fees.
Trustees’ presence interferes with administrators’ work.
Drain insulted Weston Ranch High staff.
Dramatically escalating district legal costs due to the behavior of trustees.
The need for board and staff training.
The report concluded by noting:
“The Grand Jury found that inappropriate and disrespectful behavior by board members has been the greatest challenge for Manteca Unified School District in many years. Disrespect for each other, for employees, and for community members have created a toxic climate. Additionally, administrators at all levels have been pressured to cut corners and ignore important policies and procedures, leading some to question their judgment. As a result. some employees are actively seeking work elsewhere.
“In the past Manteca Unified School District has generally served its students successfully. However, that effort may be jeopardized by the exceedingly distributing actions described in this report. These actions must stop. If they are not stopped, the district risks further undermining its credibility with the community it serves and also risks losing some of the people who have been responsible for the district’s successes. Both would severely stymie district progress.
“School boards have been in existence for centuries, and have a rich tradition of serving as upholders of the beliefs and values of the community they represent. Roles and responsibilities are part of that tradition. When school board members operate with respect for their appropriate roles and responsibilities, education can be strong, and great things can happen, especially for students. When board members and administrators ignore agreed upon roils and policies, it can be damaging as breaking the law. If trustees behave inappropriately with no regard or respect for established norms, the educational system can be seriously damaged, harming taxpayers, employees, and, most importantly, students.”