Grand jury: It ain’t over

It’s round two for the grand jury and the Chico Unified School District.

The same week the school board unanimously approved its official response to the 2004-05 grand jury report, trustees learned that the new incarnation of the county investigatory body is taking them on again.

The new, more conciliatory tone of the response wasn’t enough to win over supporters of Jeff Sloan, who last year was demoted from his position as Marsh Junior High School principal after he was found to have “misused” funds in the midst of sloppy accounting procedures.

Marsh, the grand jury stated, didn’t do anything worse than other CUSD schools, and the district should either publicly recognize that or retract its allegations against Sloan.

“Why did Jeff Sloan get singled out?” asked Sloan supporter and Marsh parent Susan Minasian, who is an attorney. She urged trustees to reject the response to the grand jury, which sidesteps the Sloan issue. “This report makes things worse.”

Also unsatisfied with the CUSD, apparently, is the new grand jury.

Ivor M. Thomas, 2005-06 Butte County Grand Jury foreperson, wrote new Superintendent Chet Francisco that a committee “will be conducting a comprehensive review of services” in the CUSD. Thomas also urged trustees and district staff to cooperate, perhaps a reference to the prior grand jury’s finding that some district officials were “hostile” and “defensive” toward that investigation.

The 2004-05 report had also addressed the charging of seemingly mandatory fees for course materials, gym uniforms and other items, apparently in conflict with the state Educational Code. The district continues to contract with district finance experts FCMAT, a team from which will return Oct. 25 to train principals in state rules.

Trustees Scott Huber and Jann Reed, chosen to revise the defensive- and legal-sounding draft version of the district’s response to the grand jury, spent more than a dozen hours on the task. “We labored for a long time to get this right to the best of our abilities,” Reed said.

Huber and Reed both continue to feel that injustices were dealt Sloan, and that his job and reputation could have been saved had the district acted differently.

“I do not believe Mr. Sloan was treated well in this matter,” Reed said.

“The hurt continues on our watch,” she said, but concluded, “It is time to close this chapter and move on. We must agree to disagree if necessary.”

Huber disagreed with Sloan supporters on some counts. “I think [trustees] have taken a great deal of responsibility [for the events of last year]. I have never once heard anyone on the other side take responsibility for anything that was done on that side.”

Some Sloan supporters had threatened trustees with business boycotts, accused them of biases based on alleged personal experiences with Sloan and printed anti-superintendent bumper stickers.

Sloan, who held an administrative job at an alternative junior high last year, was assigned to teach fourth grade this year but opted to take a personal leave of absence.

Sloan himself wrote a lengthy response to the grand jury, countering the district’s “frivolous charges” that resulted in a “nightmarish ordeal” for himself, his family and the Marsh community.

He pointed out that no money was ever found to be missing and he did not personally benefit from the accounting errors as the district had charged.

He concluded that the matter “can only end with a public retraction and reinstatement to an equivalent position.”