Fresno Teachers Want District Leaders to ‘Reimagine’ Education ASAP
Fresno Teachers Association members want the School Board — and the public — to hear their concerns and their proposals to “reimagine” Fresno Unified and how it educates children.
So starting Wednesday, groups of teachers, nurses, and other professionals are scheduled to address trustees at the start of board meetings.
The first group will represent the Fresno High region, followed by the McLane and Edison regions, Hoover and Bullard regions, Roosevelt region, and Sunnyside region.
More than 100 teachers, students, and other Fresno High region representatives packed the board room, many armed with FTA signs.
FTA President Manuel Bonilla said the union wants the School Board and the public to hear what FTA is proposing for the new contract — including reducing class sizes, increasing teacher support, increasing classroom safety — because it doesn’t appear that district officials are listening.
“What we’re saying is we need to have an authentic conversation about how we address this. And the only way we can have an authentic conversation is if you’re listening to the voices of your teacher. And it feels like that’s not happening right now,” he said.
Too Many Meetings, Initiatives
For example, Bonilla said, FTA conducted a survey of 4,200 teachers on a variety of topics, including the amount of time they are required to attend meetings.
The vast majority surveyed said the time could be put to better use, such as planning or grading.
The current contract requires 45 hours of meetings per school year, and the union is seeking to negotiate fewer meeting hours in the upcoming contract.
“So we have 95% … of your educators who are doing the work saying this thing is detrimental to (my) planning for my students’ learning. And yet we have a complete opposite from the district.” — FTA President Manuel Bonilla
But the district wants to increase the number of meeting hours instead, he said.
“So we have 95% of folks, 95% of your educators who are doing the work saying this thing is detrimental to (my) planning for my students’ learning. And yet we have a complete opposite from the district,” he said. “So there’s such a huge disconnect.
“This is one example of the disconnect. I have other ones, but that’s just one very easy one because it doesn’t cost the district anything to make that move, right? It’s absolutely zero dollars. And yet we’re in a position where that’s taking place.”
Teachers are frustrated that the district continues to chase new initiatives — Bonilla said the district admitted during bargaining to having more than 300 initiatives but no metric with which to evaluate them — but appear deaf to teachers’ ideas.
Top-Down Decision Making, Chasing Grants
The top-down decision-making has district officials adding programs and initiatives because of captured funding, such as a grant, he said.
“Just this year, the district has allocated $126 million for consultants, to have somebody come in from the outside that doesn’t know our students to ‘train us’ on how to teach our students instead of something like listening to our educators. And that’s where a lot of frustration is built up,” he said.
Unlike prior negotiations that led to an early signing of a three-year contract in 2019, this round of negotiations is not faring as successfully, leading to the union’s decision to speak publicly and directly to the School Board, Bonilla said.
Bonilla said the union is not trying to negotiate its contract at a public forum, but instead to air its concerns so the public — and School Board — are aware of them.
The union’s advocacy of transparency includes allowing the public to observe negotiating sessions that are livestreamed, Bonilla said. The next livestream session is scheduled for March 20, he said.
Safety Concerns A Common Theme
The need to improve school safety was the focus of a number of speakers, including Fresno High student Emily Baslee, who said she dreads going to school now, especially after a recent stabbing incident. School leaders tend to pay attention to safety only after such incidents occur, instead of from the start of the school year, she said.
Fresno High sophomore Leslie Prado said the high school’s campus assistants, who help provide security, need to be better trained. The campus assistants let things escalate until fights erupt, Prado said.
When rules are enforced, the high school is safer for all, said teacher James Dunn. He told the board members that he walks down the school hallways every day smelling marijuana, and kids who are caught vaping are not disciplined, even though vaping is not permitted.
Tamara Smith, a special education student at Fort Miller Middle School, said the number of fights and suspensions increased at the school after the school lost a behavior tech staffer due to a contract glitch. And even though the people involved in trying to solve the problem included Fresno High Area Trustee Andy Levine, the school is still short-staffed, Smith said.