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Will Fresno Unified Cut Instruction Hours at Some Schools to Balance Budget?
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By Nancy Price, Multimedia Journalist
Published 2 months ago on
March 7, 2024

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Teachers say Fresno Unified should not eliminate extra student class time and teacher planning at Designated Schools.

Student performance at the district’s 40 Designated Schools varies widely.

Because of declining enrollments, state funding, and chronic absenteeism, district needs to cut $30M to balance next year’s budget.


Fresno Unified is considering eliminating an extra half hour of daily instruction for students that’s designed to help them close learning gaps.

“We need those hours. We are entrenched in deep, deep work that makes a huge impact on our students.”  — Claudia Silva, teacher, King Elementary School 

At 40 elementary schools that are Designated Schools, teachers also get paid for up to 80 additional hours yearly for planning and collaborating with other teachers. In addition, Designated Schools have an assigned teacher on special assignment.

But the $24 million, 10-year-old program could be at risk as district leaders seek ways to trim $30 million from next year’s budget.

The district expects to get less revenue from the state because of declining enrollments, chronic absenteeism, the end of pandemic recovery money, and a big drop in the projected state cost-of-living adjustment, from 3.94% to 0.76%.

Cutting out the extra instruction and planning time at Designated Schools would be bad for students and teachers, and also a violation of the teacher contract, Fresno Teachers Association President Manuel Bonilla told the board Wednesday.

“I’m sure your team will tell you that you have a right to terminate this program unilaterally if there exists an inability for fully funding the program,” Bonilla said. “However, when you have expanded senior management positions, you cannot claim that there is an inability to fund. When you have allocated to consultants enough money this year alone to fund this program for another three years, you cannot claim an inability to fund. And even on your three-year projections, when you have an ending balance of 11.5%, you cannot claim that there’s inability to fund.”

District spokeswoman Nikki Henry told GV Wire on Wednesday that for now the possibility of eliminating designated schools is a topic of conversation at the Labor Management Partnership table, and no decisions have been finalized.

Teachers: Students and Staff Need Designated Schools

Two teachers implored the board not to trim the Designated Schools program, with one noting the potential loss of income to teachers and the other talking about the impact on students’ instruction time and teacher planning time.

Wednesday’s board meeting included the first of four budget presentations. The board’s final budget vote will come in June.

Teachers need the extra pay from working at designated schools to support themselves and their families, said Andrew Colburn, who teaches at Wilson Elementary.

Colburn asked the School Board to consider making other budget cuts before trimming teacher pay. “Please don’t just take money away from teachers first. Please make sure we’re looking at other things,” he said.

Claudia Silva, who teaches at King Elementary, said that the extra time for planning is extremely valuable because it helps her better prepare to work with her students.

“We need those hours,” she said. “We are entrenched in deep, deep work that makes a huge impact on our students.”

Wide Range in Student Achievement

However, state testing for the 2022-23 school year shows a wide range in proficiency in English and math among the 40 schools, which are scattered throughout central, west, southeast, and south Fresno in inner-city neighborhoods.

In seven of the 40 schools, students tested above the district average of 33% at or above proficient in English and 23% at or above proficient in math.

In six additional schools, students tested above the district average in either English or math.

But in 27 Designated Schools, students tested below the district average in both English and math. At Wilson Elementary, where Colburn teaches, 16% were at or above proficient in English and 10% in math, while at Silva’s school, King Elementary, 19% were at or above proficient in English and 17% in math.

Close Scrutiny of Costs

The School Board is combing through the district’s billion-dollar budget with the goal of funding programs with the greatest return on investment.

And, no expenditure is too small to eyeball and question. Trustee Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas took the somewhat unusual step at Wednesday’s meeting of casting the lone no vote on several smaller expenditures. While $150,000 might seem puny compared to the overall budget, it’s equal to pay and benefits for one employee whose job might otherwise be at risk, she said.

Because the School Board made it clear that budgets for school sites should remain as intact as possible, departments are tasked with much of the belt-tightening, Chief Financial Officer Patrick Jensen told the board. The proposed trims included personnel, travel, training, and materials and supplies.

Wednesday’s board meeting included the first of four budget presentations. The board’s final budget vote will come in June.

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Nancy Price,
Multimedia Journalist
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

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