Contract negotiation season is here for Fresno Unified and the Fresno Teachers Association, and some of the priciest proposals the union kicked around in the spring – like providing free laundry service for students and resetting lifetime benefits for qualifying employees – are still on the table.
A draft of initial proposals from the association in April ruffled some feathers with its many non-academic, student-related recommendations. Those included anything from opening school parking lots to homeless FUSD families overnight with paid security to purchasing hygiene products for students needing them.
Many of the attention-grabbing proposals remained in the union’s first formal set of proposals submitted to the district on Nov. 18.
That’s because FTA isn’t just seeking better employee pay and benefits, as one might expect from a union, said FTA President Manuel Bonilla. Instead, they want to “change the system” itself.
“Everything is really built around this idea of: How can we reimagine education? How can we do something different?” he said. “How can we make sure that we’re valuing everybody in our system?”
As the largest union in the district with over 4,000 members — and with “me too” clauses in many of the district’s other contracts, meaning that any salary or benefit increase one bargaining unit secures should be awarded to all employees — this contract could set the standard for all the district’s 11,000-plus employees.
pay raises, healthcare
The Nov. 18 proposals from FTA, enumerated across a 26-page document, include requests for as much as a 7.26% raise plus 100% district-paid healthcare, up from the current 95/5 employer- to employee-covered ratio.
The proposal also asks that the district reset lifetime benefit qualification for employees hired before March 16, 2020, who work for FUSD for at least 20 years, and employees hired between March 17 and Aug. 1, 2023, who work at least 25 years.
Several of the other investments pertain to academics, with dozens of proposals related to new class-size caps for both general and special education teachers, as well as the expansion of tutoring programs.
But some trustees question how serious some of FTA’s proposals are.
“This is all throwing crap against the wall,” said outgoing Trustee Terry Slatic, who’s been skeptical of FTA’s proposed investments for homeless students. “So that when they concede that we’re not going to give it to them,” he said, he expects FTA to push for demands in other areas.
Board President Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas said her concerns remain about bankrupting the district. Resetting lifetime benefits — after they were eliminated from FTA’s contract in 2005 — is among the most concerning proposals, she said.
“When the district had them, it was an issue that had to be bargained out,” she said. “It was previously already deemed unsustainable financially. So I’d be concerned about us going down that road again.”
Other trustees have voiced support for FTA’s ambitious ideas as they were outlined in the spring.
In a May interview, Trustee Veva Islas emphasized that she believes student academic outcomes and well-being are inextricably linked, underscoring the need for social-emotional investments like those outlined in FTA’s initial proposals.
“Is it our responsibility alone? No. Homelessness is not just the burden of the school district,” she said. “We do need partnerships with the city and county in order to come up with innovative strategies.”
She could not be reached for additional comment on the Nov. 18 proposals.
The board was divided on some of the proposals themselves in the spring, but also the way FTA presented them.
In May, The Bee’s Education Lab reported that four of seven FUSD trustees allegedly signed the draft version of FTA’s proposals, which generated concerns that the document could circumvent ordinary bargaining.
Jonasson Rosas, Slatic and recently re-elected Trustee Valerie Davis told the Ed Lab they did not sign the document. Islas and Trustee Keshia Thomas, who was also just re-elected, declined to answer. Trustee Claudia Cazares didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.
Slatic said the document doesn’t appear to have impacted negotiations so far. Bonilla said that board leadership’s feelings about the proposals remain to be seen as negotiations continue.
Bonilla said he foresees a “potentially long process” given what the union saw in the initial document Fresno Unified also submitted Nov. 18 — which he called “disconnected” from the realities of the classroom.
FUSD’s three-page document identified the district’s interest in updating contract language around several key issues, including class sizes, sick leave, and student supervision requirements.
“One of the District’s interests is to remain fiscally solvent by adhering to sound business practices while focusing decisions on improving academic outcomes for students,” said FUSD spokesperson Nikki Henry in a statement to the Ed Lab.
Among the more controversial of the district’s bullet points is one that proposes “including student academic growth” in employee evaluations.
The district also expresses interest in “recruiting, hiring, and retaining highly qualified staff by providing a competitive total compensation package.”
Bonilla said this proposal implies “bad teachers” are at fault for the district’s increasingly low academic performance rather than a lack of adequate support for teachers.
The bargaining teams are set to meet again in the next few weeks, according to Bonilla.
The next meeting will come after both parties finalize the ground rules for bargaining, Henry said.
FTA and FUSD are still only beginning the bargaining process that will ensue over the next seven months before FTA’s contract expires in June.
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