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Manteca board accepts scathing Grand Jury report
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The last time the Manteca Unified School District Board of Education discussed responding to the San Joaquin County Civil Grand Jury’s scathing report on the body’s behavior the matter got away from board president Deborah Romero.

She made sure on Tuesday that it didn’t happen again.

While there wasn’t nearly as much fanfare surrounding the revisiting of the issue – at the center of which is damning report by the Grand Jury that outlines inappropriate behavior by members of the board, namely Trustees Sam Fant and Ashley Drain – it still led to a terse exchange between Fant and Romero after a motion and a second to approve the findings and the recommendations of the document effectively prevented Fant from rebutting the entire report.

Part of the problem, Romero said, was the fact that the board voted last month on the matter and was simply reviewing the final recommendations before sending a letter to San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Leslie Holland. If Fant truly wanted a shot at clarifying things for the record, she said, then he missed his opportunity to do so. 

“I’m asking you – you’re agreeing with inaccuracies?” Fant asked quizzically of Romero.

“You accepted them,” Superintendent Jason Messer fired back.

Fant was successful in lobbying to have the motion changed to reflect that the district “accepts” rather than “agrees with” the findings outlined in the report. He had wanted to go through the matter line-by-line but was blocked by Romero who said that he already had a chance to address the specifics and that they weren’t there on Tuesday to do so.

The document, which was called “trash” by Trustee Ashley Drain when it was first discussed at the board level, makes the claim that “coercion by some trustees caused established Board policies and procedures, including safeguards, to be circumvented by some administrators.”

All of the findings – which included recognizing that some public statements by board members have caused disruption and anger amongst the Manteca Unified community and that the release of Weston Ranch Principal Jose Fregoso from his duties have caused the district undue financial burden – were accepted.

Other findings included the fact that the behavior of some board members have employees in the workplace fearing for their jobs and that administrators have spent much more time dealing with trustee matters than ever before – causing their routine district-related workload to take a hit. The report also noted that the legal costs associated with the board’s behavior have skyrocketed in the last two years, and that only a few trustees have attended training sessions and seminars that would have more clearly defined their role as an elected official.

And people aren’t happy about the status of things.

Sharmaine Mendes, who has stood up for Fant and Drain in the past when their actions merited it, again asked both board members – who are facing a possible recall from their positions – to resign immediately. But her barrels were pointed particularly at Fant.

“You and I and everybody else in this room knows that you skated on that censure,” Mendes said. “Having an impromptu press conference on your way to the little boy’s room was absolutely wrong, and I think you should resign your position immediately.”

Karen Pearsall took issue with Drain’s previous comments about the Grand Jury report – pointing out that she referred to it as “garbage” when it was last discussed.

Such an attitude, Pearsall said, is detrimental to the relationships that administrators and staffers in the district have worked to craft and serves as a slap in the face to the others that they share the dais with.

“Saying that was completely disrespectful to the Grand Jurors who took the time and the effort to investigate these employee complaints,” Pearsall said. “You don’t need to accept the findings that they made if you don’t agree, but you do need to at least take it seriously.”

Ultimately the board voted unanimously on sending the letter that accepts the findings and recommendations off to Judge Holland. Drain attempted to abstain, but her vote therefore ended up being counted as an aye vote per procedural guidelines.