An unflattering picture painted of Manteca Unified trustee Sam Fant in a scathing Grand Jury report also reveals a vain side to the self-described politician.
He started an exercise program at August Knodt School for adults named after himself — Fitness, Aerobic, Nutrition, Training or FANT.
That exercise program was one of numerous examples the Grand Jury citied in its report released Wednesday that contends Fant ignored district procedures, intimidated school employees, and overstepped his authority. The report also zeroed in on the conduct of the two trustees elected in November — Alexander Bronson who has since resigned and Ashley Drain who is the target 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:
Exercise class established contrary to normal procedures.
In the winter of 2013 Fant pushed for a Zumba-like exercise class for adults at the August Knodt School campus. Administrators — when Fant pushed for the class — expressed concerns about having unknown adults on campus, fingerprinting issues, as well as participant and student safety. To address the issues, the district pushed to have it “programmed.” However, none of the participants were willing to be fingerprinted. That delayed the start-up of the program for a year.
During the course of its investigation, the Grand Jury found evidence that Fant dealt directly with — and demanded action from — a number of school employees instead of going through Superintendent Jason Messer as board members are suppose to do.
One email the Grand Jury obtained that Fant sent to district personnel 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.”
The report states that Fant was known to tell administrators on many occasions that their job was to do what he told them. He would repeatedly say to staff, “This is what I want. Your job is to figure out how to make it happen.” He would say that even after concerns about safety, cost, and liability were discussed with him.
When the issue of possible injuries came up involving participants in the FANT exercise class, Fant demanded it be made a district program so that it would be covered by insurance. In one email, Fant stated, “Manteca Unified has deep pockets, let us get sued.”
uFant assumes control of a district program.
In the spring of 2014, an after school program based on an idea originating with Fant and supported by most of the other trustees was started at Weston Ranch High. It started with upwards of 60 students under the auspices of “the award winning” Give Every Child a Chance organization that currently serves more than 4,000 children at almost 50 sites.
Drain, not a trustee at the time, worked with GECAC at the Weston Ranch campus until April 2014. At the time, according to a series of emails, she became defiant with a supervisor telling him that the after-school program was not Principal Jose Fregoso’s program, and it was not GECAC’s program; it was Sam Fant’s program, and she would take orders from him.
The Grand Jury noted that when GECAC Chief Executive Officer Carol Davis called Drain to discuss her exchange with the supervisor, Drain hung up on her and called Fant. After a series of conservations and meetings, Drain was dismissed by Davis.
GECAC employees expressed concerns about Fant’s behavior particularly how he interacted with Principal Fregoso. Fant was heard giving orders to Fregoso and using many profanities in the process.
The pilot program was a success and the board directed Messer to find $125,000 to fund it. A year later based on additional interactions with Fant, GECAC dropped the program but continues to offer similar ones as elementary schools in Weston Ranch.
Weston Ranch principal ousted.
The Grand Jury found that Fant spent many hours at Weston Ranch High. He usually did not check in at the office, as is normal practice, and often pulled teachers out of their classrooms during instruction time to discuss Principal Fregoso’s performance. Starting in December 2014, Fant was often seen on campus with newly-elected trustee Drain.
Fant and Drain then worked to get Fregoso removed forcing a board vote after making statements about Fregoso’s performance. Subsequently the district entered into negotiations with Fregoso. On March 3, 2015 it was announced Fregoso would be leaving the district at the end of the school year after accepting a full year of benefits and salary costing the district $150,000. Fregoso would have remained at the high school if it weren’t for Drain and Fant. The Grand Jury also learned that a climate of fear was created among many district employees because of the way Fregoso was ousted.
Drain interferes with discipline.
A few days after Drain’s election she intervened in a disciplinary matter involving a student who happened to be in her emotional development after-school activity conducted privately in her home. After the student shared her version of the incident, Drain drove her to the high school where she told Fregoso he was apathetic to the plight of the school’s minority students. In her Facebook page Drain stated “I don’t play by the rules that are counterproductive to the well being of my students. . . As long as it isn’t illegal . . . by ANY means necessary.”
A second incident on Jan. 20. 2015 happened when a campus monitor restrained a male student who was trying to fight with a female student. Drain was on campus with James French. French began yelling at the campus monitor to stop. French had no visitor’s badge so he was asked by the principal to identify himself. He replied that he was with Ashley Drain. When asked if he had checked into the office before entering the campus, he said he had. Checking in is a required security measure so staff knows who is on campus. It was discovered French had not checked in as he claim. The principal checked in with the vice principal in his office where the combative student had been taken only to find the student talking with Drain. She was told by Fregoso to leave the office as she did not have the required parental permission to speak with the student.
Consultant hired without background check.
French, who had officiated at Drain’s marriage four years later, eventually got a job to work with at-risk students coming under the influence of gangs at a cost of $6,000. French, who has publically stated that he was a former gang member and served 23 years in state prison for gang-affiliated armed robbery could not pass the state-required background check for all adults working with students. For this reason the contract with the district required him to check into the office and be accompanied by a certificated employee at all times while on campus. The Grand Jury learned there were many times he was seen on campus unaccompanied and without a visitor’s badge.
One reason why the contract was allowed to be approved outside of normal procedures was an assurance that French worked at the University of the Pacific. The Grand Jury determined that the district could not verify his employment at UOP. The Grand Jury also was not able to verify French’s employment at UOP.
Fant gives principal candidate after-hours tour at Weston Ranch High.
On April 13, 2015, an off-duty security campus monitor opened the door to Weston Ranch High for Fant and an unidentified woman who subsequently toured various campus facilities. The woman, it was later learned, was applying for the job as Weston Ranch High principal. She later became one of the three finalists. Fant did not hare the visit with site administrators, other board members, of the superintendent.
The woman given the tour by Fant eventually became the principal. The Grand Jury indicated Fant had made it known to numerous persons that he would select the new principal at Weston Ranch High and the principal would be an African-American.
Investigation into employee complaint filed against Fant.
An employee who works at Woodward School in the office filed a formal complaint against Fant claiming that he created a hostile workplace. Some of the employee’s personal Facebook pages were distributed and displayed at the Jan. 27 meeting. After determining the Facebook entries had not been uploaded with district property, the district enlisted an attorney to investigate the employee’s complaint
That attorney determined Fant showed pictures of the Facebook page to the Bulletin in advance of the meeting and made the newspaper aware that a TV reporter would be attending the Jan. 27 board meeting. Fant left the Jan. 27 board meeting for a time when the meeting was going on to give an interview with Fox 40 news.
As a result of that, the board established a committee to consider censuring Fant.
Junior Cougars banquet was scheduled by Fant, cancelled and held anyway.
Fant serves as the vice president for the community based Junior Cougars youth football team. On Dec. 1, 2014, he asked the district facilities use clerk for a form to reserve the Weston Ranch High cafeteria for a football banquet on Dec. 6. The normal lead time is four weeks. Four days later, Fant went to the clerk and cancelled the event saying he couldn’t pull it off fast enough. The clerk informed the site.
Then on the date of the event that was cancelled, Fant had a campus security monitor open the facility to hold the banquet. The Junior Cougars’ cost for the banquet was reduced because the proper forms were not filled out.
Trustees’ presence interferes with administrators’ work.
Trustees spend an extraordinary amount of time in administrators’ offices. They often arrive unannounced and sometimes engage in conservations that seem of little importance to district operations. Many administrators find it impossible to complete their work, because some trustees sometimes spend hours in their offices. During these visits necessary interaction with staff is impossible. This meant some administrators spend most of their weekends catching up.
Drain insults Weston Ranch High staff.
After Drain learned that she was to be charged with voter and welfare fraud, she went straight to Facebook and blasted the district. She particularly angered the Weston Ranch community when she called Weston Ranch High a “ghetto school” and she stated that Weston Ranch schools are “dumping grounds for poor teachers.” Manteca teachers, already frustrated with contract negotiations, came to the May 12 board meeting wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the words “I Have a Voice/The Ranch by Choice”. Other Facebook exchanges by Drain have created controversy spilling over into board meetings and the press. Two days after learning about the felony charges against her, Drain ceased posting updates to Facebook.
Dramatically escalating legal costs.
Spending for legal services increased dramatically as a result of the behaviors of trustees cited in the Grand Jury report. Some of the issues causing increased legal costs include several investigations, questions about residency, use of technology in meetings, by-law changes, and a study session regarding conflict of interests and appropriate governance, recall election process, advice about appearing before the Grand Jury, negotiations with the Weston Ranch High principal and legal ramifications of alleged criminal misconduct.
During the 2012-13 fiscal year the district spent $2,000 for legal services relating to the board of trustees. During the current fiscal year through March 31, 2015, the district has spent $57,926.21 in legal fees related to board behavior. The Grand Jury notes once the buyout of the principal’s contact is tossed in, board behavior has cost the district in excess of $200,000 so far. If the recall moves forward, those costs will escalate even more.
Board and staff training.
In December, soon after their election, Bronson and Drain were given an option to attend training held in San Francisco by the California School Board Association for new and existing board members. Bronson couldn’t attend due to a conflict with his work. Drain was scheduled to go, but when she arrived to check in at her hotel, she found it unacceptable. She returned home, and did not attend the training.
The Grand Jury learned that no administrators have received orientation on interacting with board members. As a result, numerous incidents occurred during the last few months that allowed policies and procedures to be circumvented because staff did not understand their responsibilities.
“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 rules and policies, it can be as 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.”