The Bulldog of Bullard had a banner year, now the hard work lies ahead.
It cannot be understated how Brooke Ashjian’s arrival onto the Fresno Unified School Board served as an unusually quiet affair. Ever since, his tenure has been decidedly different, couched in terms of a Bull in the China shop.
And his position on this list has as much to do with 2015 as 2016.
The seeds of Ashjian’s high-voltage push to lead Fresno Unified’s school board began in bold, but simple terms: over the course of a few lunches in early 2015, he culled together many members of this list and other high-caliber Fresnans to formulate a strategy to open an integrated career-technical education high school. It managed to drive him into a skirmish with Superintendent Michael Hanson and the chief’s “Pathways” plan.
The decision to brush off Ashjian’s push for the CTE high school created snowballing consequences when the FBI came a calling to investigate the district for its contracting methods for school construction.
By the end of August 2015, the U.S. Attorney served the district and two contractors with subpoenas for documents related to communications between Hanson’s team and contractors.
Whatever working relationship between Ashjian and Hanson existed prior to the subpoena had suddenly vanished.
With considerable pressure on Hanson in late 2015, Ashjian ginned up a plan to flip the school board and a year later, former City Hall guru Claudia Cazares replaced the retiring Janet Ryan, one of Hanson’s most loyal Board surrogates, to represent Hoover. In south Fresno, Fresno EOC community engagement director Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas replaced her fiancé, Luis Chavez, to represent Roosevelt.
Despite Ashjian’s most visible battle of 2016 – focused on the half-billion Measure X bond – failing, his ultimate victory was having two new allies elected.
Then, two weeks ago, the entire paradigm shifted.
With an obvious 4-person governing majority in hand, Ashjian was primed to pick up the Board Presidency and generate friction with the district administration on a level unseen since the district was on the verge of state takeover more than a decade ago.
Before the vote would occur, Hanson announced he would be resigning with an exit in August. It didn’t stop him from a last-ditch move to lobby other members of the new majority to elect Christopher De La Cerda as board president (including implementing an obscure voting rule during the election on on Dec. 14).
Ashjian would become Board President anyway. Like President-Elect Donald Trump (whose Fresno rally featured Ashjian reciting the Pledge of Allegiance), the Bulldog claimed a monumental victory before taking his post.
While 2016 afforded Bullard’s school board member the tools he needed, 2017 is perhaps his much bigger task: governing.
While friction remains with a lame duck Superintendent, Ashjian will take ownership of four major initiatives for the future of Fresno’s school district: hiring an interim Superintendent, launching and managing the search for a new Superintendent, crafting a budget for 2017-2018 that reflects the new post-Hanson trajectory of the district, and achieving his long-standing goal of creating a vocational education model that integrates with the demands of the local economy.
For 2017, all appearing before the Fresno Unified school board will refer to the Bulldog of Bullard as “President Ashjian” during meetings. We’ll simply call him “President Damn Thing.”
Why? Because his refreshing style has folks lacing up their Nikes.
Photo: Silvia Flores/The Fresno Bee