Fresno Unified says if teachers strike, it will keep schools open and safe

Fresno’s school district says it’s prepared for a teachers’ strike and said it has proposed changes within its operations to meet the union’s requests.

Fresno Unified School District issued an email statement Tuesday designed to reassure families, students, and staff that it is prepared to keep schools open, safe, “and full of learning,” during an active teacher strike.

Tuesday afternoon’s statement comes after district leaders and the Fresno Teachers Association met following the union’s announcement of its plan to strike on Nov. 1.

Though the union and district say they’re committed to continuing negotiations to meet a mutual agreement, both sides have prepared for picket lines and work stoppages.

The disagreement between Fresno Unified and the FTA also comes at a time when union members filed an unfair practice charge against the district with the California Public Employment Relations Board for allegedly attempting to influence or intimidate union members and questioning district staff if they would participate in a potential strike.

Also, an independent fact-finder investigation concluded that bargaining has been “unsuccessful” because both parties have engaged in “disrespectful” behaviors that have obstructed trust-building, according to the report.

Manuel Bonilla, FTA president and teacher at McLane High School, said the union and district haven’t agreed on four key issues: Reducing class sizes and the caseload of special education programs, paying educators a wage that keeps up with inflation and maintaining the employee health fund.

The district stated it has offered proposals on these four issues to the union.

The district says it has provided raises over the years. According to what is called the Local Control Funding Formula, they received 26.9% cost of living adjustments while paying staff 32.7%, a rate the district said is larger than the 30.2% estimated increase of inflation. Fresno Unified now proposes to bring the total raise offering to 46.7% and claims that pay has outpaced inflation and will continue to do so.

As for class sizes and special education caseloads, the district said it proposed to add 100 classrooms across the district by moving 50 teachers on special assignment back into classrooms over the next two school years. This, it said, should help lower class sizes in addition to a yearly gradual reduction plan.

Fresno Teachers Association president Manuel Bonilla (center) publicly announced the union voted in favor of striking on Tuesday morning, Oct. 24, 2023 at the FTA’s offices in Fresno. The vote in favor allowed the FTA executive board (standing behind Bonilla) to decide Nov. 1 will be the start of educators’ picket lines if they and Fresno Unified School District don’t come to an agreement before then.

Besides the reassignment of teachers and plans to lower class sizes per year, the district also proposes creating a problem-solving committee with FTA and Fresno Unified leaders to work out long-term plans to lower class sizes and caseloads even further.

Regarding the maintenance of the employee health fund reserve, Fresno Unified stated it’s not only proposed to maintain it but also to grow it. The reserve sits at about $99 million, the district said, and with their second and latest package proposal from Oct, 13, the health fund is projected to grow to just over $200 million. The district anticipates the reserve will keep growing while health benefits are expected to improve and staff could have district-paid coverage with the proposed “Bridge to Medicare” plan.

During the FTA’s morning announcement, Bonilla said the district’s proposals hadn’t met the union’s liking, leading more than 3,450 members to vote in favor of striking. If an agreement isn’t met by Nov. 1, Bonilla said FTA district employees will picket in schools across the district.

While union members voted in the course of several days, Fresno Unified approved the allocation of $3 million to cover expenses needed to prepare for the strike such as school materials, increased security and additional health personnel.

As of Tuesday afternoon, while the district issued this response, Fresno Unified and FTA leadership remained in negotiation meetings.