After the Fresno Teachers Association said teachers will strike starting Nov. 1 if there is no contract by then, Fresno Unified School District issued a news release later Tuesday saying it is prepared for a strike and claiming that it has already met and even exceeded the union’s demands for pay, healthcare, and class sizes.
The union’s contract proposal — the district made a point of saying there’s only been one proposal so far from FTA — would put Fresno Unified’s budget into red ink and subject the district to a state takeover if it becomes insolvent, the news release says, adding, “We cannot accept that as stewards of taxpayer dollars.”
The union has identified four major points of contention in the new three-year pact: Tying teacher salaries to the rate of inflation, maintaining current contributions to the self-funded healthcare fund, reducing class sizes, and reducing special education caseloads.
That’s already happening, the district says in the news release.
FTA Says Teachers and District ‘Cannot Be Further Apart’
In an illustration of the wide gap between the sides, FTA President Manuel Bonilla told reporters Tuesday morning that the district has collected record state revenues and is sitting on record reserves while spending record amounts on top officials’ salaries, consultants, and PR.
“It shouldn’t be difficult to come to consensus for our students,” he said. “Yet the district and FTA cannot be further apart. Suffice it to say, our teachers are tired. They’re tired of the empty promises, the nonsense slogans, the highly paid administrators paying lip service to solving real issues on our campuses.”
Still, Bonilla said that the union is hopeful a strike can be averted.
10-Year Wage Hikes Beat COLA, Inflation
Fresno Unified says it has provided wage increases that not only have kept up but also exceeded the rate of inflation over the past decade. While the district has received 26.9% in cost-of-living adjustments through the state-funded local control funding formula and inflation climbed by 30.2% from 2013-14 through 2022-23, Fresno Unified says it has raised staff salaries by 32.7% over that time period.
The district’s updated proposal would raise the 10-year salary increase to 46.7% since 2013-14, more than four percentage points higher than the local control funding formula COLA increase of 42.4% over the same period, the district says.
The self-funded health fund would not be depleted by reducing the per-employee contribution from $24,370 to $21,000, FUSD says. The district wants to shift funds from the health fund contribution to employee raises. Even with a reduction in the proposed contribution, the health fund reserve— which now contains about $99 million — would continue to grow to just under $200 million through the life of the proposed contract, the district says.
And that’s even as the district improves its paid coverage from 95% to 100% starting in January and provides a “Bridge to Medicare” plan for retirees with at least 20 years of service to the district who are at least age 57 1/2, the district says.
As for the union demands to reduce class sizes and special education caseloads, Fresno Unified says it has proposed adding 100 classrooms across the district by moving 50 teachers on special assignment back into classrooms over the next two years. The district also has proposed lowering the threshold for what is considered an overcrowded classroom. Teachers whose classrooms are overcrowded are provided additional pay.
The district also is prepared to reduce all special education classrooms to no more than two grade levels, provide additional time for case management, and provide extra pay for teachers to work on students’ individual education plans outside of their eight-hour workday. Fresno Unified has proposed creating a joint problem-solving team of district and union leaders to work out a long-term plan to address those issues and come up with solutions.
“Fresno Unified stands proud of the updated offer we have made to the FTA which includes raising the average teacher’s base salary to $103,000 annually, provides affordable, high-quality medical coverage for life, and continues moving towards lowering class sizes,” the district says.
The district is prepared to continue negotiating with the union but also has prepared to keep classrooms open in the event of a strike. Fresno Unified is offering $500 a day to substitutes to work during the strike and it says it has lined up 2,100. The substitutes are certificated teachers.
If teachers go on strike next week, it will be the first in Fresno since 1978.
Strike Can Still Be Averted
FTA announced the results of a strike authorization vote Tuesday morning: of the 92% of the dues-paying members who voted, 93.5% voted to authorize a strike.
The decision to strike in the absence of a new contract was made by FTA’s executive board Monday evening after the final votes were counted. The deadline to vote was 5 p.m. Monday, and the election was conducted by the American Arbitration Association.
The two sides resumed negotiations on Tuesday.