The former public relations aide to Alan Bersin during his stormy tenure as superintendent of schools here made some headlines of her own up the road in Fresno in 2007. After leaving the school district following the buyout of Bersin's contract in 2005 by a newly reconstituted board of education, Peri Lynn Turnbull did PR and fund-raising duties at High Tech High, a favorite Bersin charter school, and the local Red Cross chapter, where she had been hired by then-executive director Ronne Froman, another onetime member of Bersin's crew. Then in August of this year Turnbull abruptly surfaced as the new "chief information officer" for the Fresno Unified School District.
But the sweet terms of her contract, signed by superintendent Michael Hanson prior to school board review, set off a row similar to those Turnbull frequently encountered as Bersin's loyal lieutenant. The deal pays $125,000 a year, plus a monthly allowance of $2075 for meals, travel, lodging, and related expenses. Yet another provision allows Turnbull to work two days a week from her San Diego residence. That drew the wrath of Fresno Bee columnist Bill McEwen, who wrote that the arrangement "violates the first tenet of the public-relations practitioner's handbook: Don't become part of the story." McEwen also complained about Turnbull's monthly expense account, noting it "is more than what some families in Fresno Unified live on. Teachers paying for class supplies out of their pockets rightfully are incensed about the district's giving an administrator two grand a month." The debate came to a head at a rowdy school board meeting in October during which members of the teachers' union hurled catcalls at Hanson and board members when they tried to speak. That drew the ire of Bee editorialists, who called the heckling "shameful," though they counseled Turnbull to "make a connection to the community and not worry about whether she can make an airplane connection from San Diego." The board finally approved the contract, 5-2.