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Fresno Unified Proposes Huge Staff Expansion to Aid Students, Families

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A Fresno Unified student works on a classroom assignment at Lawless Elementary School in March 2021. (Fresno Unified School District)
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Fresno Unified officials are recommending a massive increase in school staffing for the 2022-23 school year to expand direct services to students and their families, the School Board learned at Wednesday’s meeting.

In-between outbursts over a trustee’s tweet that eventually derailed the meeting, chief financial officer Santino Danisi and other district administrators presented recommendations to use $30 million at “high need” schools for “concentrated positions,” including 27 additional school psychologists, 65 new instructional coaches, 77 home-school liaisons, and 15 counselors.

High need schools are those where more than 55% of students are categorized as low-income, foster youth, and English language learners. The schools not considered high need are Baird, Bullard Talent, Forkner, Malloch, and Starr elementaries.

The new jobs would total 300.6 full-time equivalent instructional positions.

The expansion of instructional staffers represents “major milestones for us in providing what we can now at a deeper level to service our teachers, our students, our families,” Instructional Superintendent Ed Gomes said. “For the first time in a long time we have the opportunity of adding significant and ongoing supports directly to our students, teachers, and families at the school site.”

More Tech Support Sought by Families

In addition, the board heard a recommendation to expand site technology support by adding 18 full-time equivalent positions. The new staffers would provide assistance to students and teachers in classrooms as well as students and their families at home, meeting a need that many families had identified as critical.

Trustee Valerie Davis cautioned about rapidly expanding the district’s work force as enrollments continue to decline and in the face of a predicted upcoming financial recession and the current high rate of inflation.

“This money won’t last, it’s not sustainable, so I think we need to be mindful of that, and you need to bring us some Plan Bs, some Plan Cs, of how we’re going to sustain … ,” she told Danisi. “Sustaining it, and making sure our students have the supports necessary at the schools, we need to be mindful of what’s coming down … because I don’t want to see 300.6 pink slips at one board meeting.”

Board president Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas said the district needs to make clear the distinction between equality and equity in staffing, since some schools with greater need will get more staffing than others.

It’s confusing to residents who are concerned about equity when they see the different levels of staffing that’s determined by student enrollment, student need, or other factors, she said.

For example, having one school psychologist per elementary site is equal but may not be equity, she said. “I would really like for our staff to do a dive on all of these different methods of allocating staff, and where feasible and applicable, really see if we can do it based on need and equity and in a way that we can explain it to our community.”

Trustees Explore Restoration of On-Campus Police

Some of the board’s budget discussions over the next several months will include consideration of restoring contracts with the Fresno Police Department for school neighborhood resource officers at middle schools. Superintendent Bob Nelson told the board that he had met with Chief Paco Balderrama and several other high-ranking police officials to review how soon the police department might provide officers should the board opt to restore the SNROs.

But with increased costs due to the city’s new contract with the police union, the loss of a grant that helped underwrite the district’s costs, and the police department’s current understaffing, it could take several years, Nelson said.

Presentations on proposals for the district’s Local Control and Accountability Plan, or LCAP, and budget will continue into May, when the governor will release the revised budget and the district will have a firmer idea of how much funding is coming from the state. The board is scheduled to approve the 2022-23 budget in June.

Nancy Price is a multimedia journalist for GV Wire. A longtime reporter and editor who has worked for newspapers in California, Florida, Alaska, Illinois and Kansas, Nancy joined GV Wire in July 2019. She previously worked as an assistant metro editor for 13 years at The Fresno Bee. Nancy earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her hobbies include singing with the Fresno Master Chorale and volunteering with Fresno Filmworks. You can reach Nancy at 559-492-4087 or Send an Email