Jose Fragozo is certainly a gadfly, but is he a threatening presence and a criminal violator of the elections code?
The embattled Escondido Union School District Board member is under a Temporary Restraining Order for allegedly having threatened and shouted at the district’s Superintendent Luis R. Ibarra.
Fragozo fell under the restraining order in December and has been unable to attend board meetings in person since December. He is allowed to attend via phone.
He is an elected official who won votes from 61 percent of voters in the mostly Hispanic downtown District 1. And he’s angry.
“There was no physical evidence, no texts, no emails, it is only them, fabricating among themselves,” Fragozo told the T-A. “The three plus the superintendent, they’re all just fabricating stories, lying.”
He said he has been suffering “defamation through letters to 17,500 homes” in Escondido. “They wrote those letters as if I already had my due process in court.”
“The fight is really about I am a Latino and I am the first Latino ever to get elected at that school district,” he said. “We have 77 percent Latino (school) population of which 56 percent are English learners.”
The superintendent and board “are refusing to meet the needs of our students,” he said.
“I’m not a rubber stamper. I’m not there to do what the other board members are doing,” he said. “I’m not them because two of them (board members) have children in charter schools, because our schools are not good enough for them.”
Of board Chairman Joan Gardner he said, “She’s been on the school board for 18 years. She’s guarding the money because she wants to make sure teachers don’t get any raises, because she hates teachers.”
Last week another set of hearings was delayed because Superior Court Judge Richard S. Whitney was sick. Another court date was canceled on January 27. Before that happened Laura Farris, Fragozo’s attorney, said the TRO should be cleared up in two weeks.
Then, on February 2 the San Diego District Attorney filed charges against Fragozo, alleging that he violated residency requirements stated in the California Elections Code.
At least one of the charges is old, in 2012 Fragozo was accused of not living in District 1 as required for board members.
I talked to three Escondido governmental officials last Saturday at the Math Field Day event at Del Dios Academy. Two of them held Fragazo in high esteem.
Councilwoman Olga Diaz said she opposed to the restraining order as too harsh.
“I think it is an extreme way to handle differences,” she said. She was on hand Saturday because her son was a member of a competing math team from Central Elementary.
She admitted that Fragozo could become animated and loud when argumentative.
She said Fragozo cared about the students. He would likely be seen at school functions like the Math Field Day, she said.
The restraining order keeps Fragozo away from that gathering of young math whizzes and proud parents, not just away from board meetings, Diaz said.
When told that Fragozo had allegedly threatened Ibarra, saying he would “come after him,” Diaz said, “Maybe he meant he would come after his job.”
Marty Hranek, a former board member and principal of Miller Elementary, said, “Jose knew the ins and outs of the system and we were supported by the teachers,” when they both ran for the board in 2010.
Fragozo ran for school board twice before being elected. One of those runs was for the board of the high school district.
“He was always very concerned about the students, the English learners… that was always his focus, that was his philosophy, to help them,” Hranek said. “He was a colleague and a friend.”
Former teacher and current board member Zesty Harper said she was puzzled by the controversy because the board and Fragozo had the same goal, to improve education for English learners and all of the students.
Harper said Fragozo had claimed that only he was qualified to represent the English-learners and she objected to that. She said he was disruptive and disrespectful.
Superintendent Luis Ibarra declined to comment, saying that he was not supposed to talk about the TRO case.
Note: Fragozo’s claim that 77 percent of district students are Latino may be an exaggeration or the reporter may have heard him wrong. kidsdata.org puts the figure at 71.1 percent Latino or 13,646 students and 20.3 percent white or 3,896 students.