He’s seen as either somebody who fights unapologetically for those who elected him or somebody who was willing to go so far as break the law to get what he wants.
And while he may be one of the most polarizing figures to serve on the Manteca Unified Board of Education in some time, Sam Fant – who sat at the dais in his final school board meeting last month – said that he’ll look back on his time serving the children of Manteca Unified favorably and with pride.
Fant, who was elected to the board in 2012 despite being both young and politically inexperienced, believes that his time with Manteca Unified has left a lasting impression on how the school board functions and how those who are elected to steer the course of education for tens of thousands of students interact with one another.
“I’d say that even though throughout he four years there were trials and tribulations, every year was productive – the good, the bad and the ugly,” Fant said. “And I say that because we all gained an understanding of one another, we were able to learn something from each other in the situations that took place, and our community in Weston Ranch where I live benefitted greatly.
“At the same time too it gave Manteca Unified a long overdue shakeup in a sense. When I got on the board there was no debate or discourse or advocacy from what I could see, and there wasn’t access to the level of representation I expected. And I came in with the mentality that it was not going to be business as usual with me.”
Fant said that he was able to accomplish his first goal on the school board almost immediately, which was allowing the residents of Weston Ranch to use the pool at the high school, and was proud of the fact he was able to do just that because of the lack of options that the Stockton spur offers for kids who live within its boundaries.
That drive to propel Weston Ranch – which views itself as underrepresented in both the City of Stockton and the Manteca Unified School District, which serves it – became even stronger, he said, after he realized how grateful people were that somebody was doing something for them.
While the pool would become a political issue later in Fant’s tenure, he said was a defining moment for him as he realized the power of his advocacy.
“I learned a lot from this, and while I didn’t care about the tone at times I didn’t want to hurt people’s feelings either – I wanted to get the job done for the community,” Fant said. “I wasn’t doing these things for myself. Not one thing that I have ever done while as a trustee I did for myself, and never did I personally benefit from it.
“The gratification that I get is from hundreds of kids swimming free of charge at a swimming pool and getting to see a community come together the way that it did when that became possible. To see so many different people from so many different socio-economic backgrounds getting together is a beautiful thing to see, and it showcases how great a community coming together under God can be – it’s more gratifying than any materialistic thing that you can receive or any kudo that might come your way. That’s a feeling that money can’t buy and as the first thing I accomplished, I got addicted to that feeling of great accomplishment and doing great things for the community.”
While Fant’s story with Manteca Unified includes chapters that have lobbed a healthy amount of judgment towards him – his involvement with the ousting of the principal at Weston Ranch High School, the scathing Grand Jury report detailing his alleged actions, his possible involvement with getting two people who didn’t meet the residency requirements to run for school board – he said that it also contains successes like opening the pool to the community, starting a fitness program for parents of August Knodt students who want to work out while their kids are in school, and helping push through a sunset clause and bring the Mello-Roos taxes in Weston Ranch to an end once the bonds that have been taken out are paid off.
And while he said he’s no stranger to criticism, he also found peace in the fact that the one person he chose to back in the three-person field to replace him on the school board, Eric Duncan Sr., will likely win the seat once all of the votes have been counted and the election is certified – despite the fact that he spent next to nothing on the race.
The future of Weston Ranch and the advocacy for the people he lives there, he said, is now in good hands moving forward.
“Everything I wanted to get done in four years I got done, and we changed the way the board thinks about certain things. Now we have trustees that are independent in their thinking and they go out and do the research and it’s for the betterment of the kids in the end,” Fant said. “We talked more as a board, and they now understand political acrobatics. While I hate the fact that politics exists in school boards, it does, and I think that I was able to help my colleagues maneuver through the political acrobatics that may come as a result of their position.
“People have said that I was overly ambitious or that I often bit off more than I could chew, and I can honestly say that if something wasn’t unethical or illegal I would do it in order to benefit the students of this district. I’m proud of the four years that I spent on the school board and the work that we were able to accomplish in that time and I want nothing but the best for the district moving forward. That’s the truth.”
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email email@example.com or call 209.249.3544.