The Fresno Teachers Association is alleging that Fresno Unified School District is committing multiple contract violations regarding teacher work assignments.
The grievances allege that because the district is understaffed, teachers are losing their class preparation time because they are being assigned to substitute for other classes, are having to juggle additional students who have been “redeployed” from other classrooms into their classrooms, and are having to do lesson planning, grading, and special education student plans on their own time instead of during their work day.
FTA President Manuel Bonilla said the grievances will be filed with the district Thursday.
Level 3 Grievances
Although grievances by the teachers union are not infrequent, they are more often Level 1 or 2 grievances that affect a single person or small number of employees, Bonilla said.
Level 3 grievances like the ones being filed Thursday impact all employees and occur less often, he said. Depending on the district’s response, the grievances could wind up in the hands of an arbitrator.
Because this is an alleged contract violation and not a contract negotiation, a teacher strike is not an option, Bonilla said.
Teachers union representatives have outlined the extra workload issues at School Board meetings since the start of the school year as well as other issues, including the need to make all staff aware of the district’s COVID-19 plan and the whereabouts of personal protective equipment at schools.
But the union’s attempts to engage the district have been unsuccessful, Bonilla said.
Teachers are demoralized by the lack of support they are getting from the district, and more than two-thirds have contemplated taking stress leave, early retirement, or a career change, he said.
Pandemic is a Magnifier
The pandemic has only magnified issues that previously existed, Bonilla said.
Teachers are particularly demoralized by what they see as a lack of urgency on the part of the district and school administrators, he said.
Because of the lack of staffing, some special education employees have to work 14-hour days to be able to complete individual education plans for students or contact their parents, on top of covering classes for absent co-workers, Bonilla said.
District officials “need to redesign the system and not rely solely on the sacrifice of teachers,” he said.
In the district’s student “redeployment,” when a teacher is out and there is no substitute to fill in, small groups of students might be parceled to different classrooms where teachers are expected to immediately pick up their instruction while maintaining the instruction of their current students — who might be a different grade level.
That “tap dance” would be difficult in any year, but particularly this year when students and instructors are readjusting to in-person instruction and contending with social-emotional issues as well as learning gaps, he said.
Extra Pay for Sub Work, Deployments
The district responded Thursday that teachers who volunteer to substitute in other classes as needed or have additional students deployed in their classroom are getting additional pay.
The district, in collaboration with FTA, has provided approximately $5,600 of additional pay for additional work to teachers in the first semester of the current school year.
Teachers aren’t the only ones being called on to sub: Teachers on special assignment, or TSAs, coaches, and management staff also are filling in as subs as needed, the district said.
In addition, the district added three non-instructional professional development days and 15 hours of teacher-directed professional development time for teacher compensation.
The proposals that FTA has submitted include reducing instructional minutes for students and revising school schedules during the last 30 days of the semester, the district said.
Fresno Unified is seeking a solution that will not reduce instructional minutes or disrupt schedules for families: “Our students, staff, and families are entitled to and deserve to have the same instructional supports that all students, staff and families have across our community. Our students deserve their instructional time, our families deserve reliability and
consistency, and our teachers deserve their prep time.”
The issue of teacher prep time surfaced less than a month ago and was not part of FTA’s original 10-point plan that was presented at the start of the semester, the district noted. That union’s plan also sought better communication about COVID-19 protocols, staff town hall meetings, better information about the availability of personal protective equipment and other issues, most of which have been addressed, the district said.
Nelson: More Subs Being Hired
Superintendent Bob Nelson announced at Wednesday’s School Board meeting that the district has made progress in hiring substitute teachers. As a result of recent hiring fairs, the district has 260 additional subs in the pipeline, which will help alleviate the planning time issue for current teachers, he said.
Nelson noted that Fresno Unified is not unique in its “staff shortages” but said that with ongoing hiring efforts, “slowly but surely our vacancies will continue to decline.”
Bonilla said those hires will help ease the impact on teachers but will not end the underlying problem that teachers see: The district has no pro-active plan and expects teachers to come up with solutions.
“But people are at the breaking point,” he said.