‘Historic’ agreement between Fresno teachers, district helped avoid strike. What to know

The Fresno school district and teachers union are celebrating a “historic” tentative contract agreement that helped thwart what would have been the first teacher strike in decades.

In a joint announcement on Tuesday, district and union officials called the contract a win for teachers and students alike.

Fresno Unified Superintendent Bob Nelson called the contract a “joint commitment” to avoiding a strike.

Manuel Bonilla, president of the Fresno Teacher Association, said the “historic” agreement includes progress on key issues for the union, such as “across the board” class size reduction, reduced special education caseload, competitive pay for teachers and nurses, and continued and stable health coverage.

This contract requires between $30 million and $40 million in cuts to other areas of the district’s budget for the 2024-25 school year, district spokesperson Nikki Henry said in an interview with Fresnoland.

Here are some of the key highlights from the district and union’s tentative agreement:

A 21% salary increase

  • 8.5% increase effective July 1, 2023, for all certificated salary schedules shall be increased by 8.5%, plus a 3% increase July 1, 2024, and a one-time 2.5% payment for teachers and nurses

  • 4.5% increase effective July 1, 2025, for all certificated salary schedules, plus 2.5% one-time payment for teachers and nurses

Smaller class sizes:

  • A new bond to address facility needs: The district and teachers union will collaborate on a new facilities bond to address needs. If approved, the parties plan to design the investments of at least 33% of the awarded bond to address class size reduction and enhance the educational environment.

  • Smaller class size guidelines with more aggressive class size reduction plans compared to the district’s last proposal. (These are guidelines only and don’t mean all class sizes will shrink to these rate.)

  • More teachers in classrooms: The District will reassign up to 75 non-classroom-based unit members each year in the 2024-2025 and 2025-2026 school years back to the classroom in order to lower class sizes.

Special education

  • Reduced caseloads: Beginning in August through June 30, 2026, the district shall reduce all elementary special education combination classes to two grade spans, where reasonable based on staffing and facility availability.

  • Stipends for teachers with larger caseloads: For every elementary special education combination class that contains more than two grade spans on or after leveling the teacher shall receive a $2,000 stipend per semester, or $4,000 per year.

  • Additional management time/substitute days for special education teachers beginning in 2024-2025 school year.

Lifetime health benefits

  • Contributions to healthcare fund: Effective July 1, 2023, the district will contribute an annual $22,000 per active employee to the health fund (compared to $21,000 in the former proposal).

  • Per year, the district is not to contribute less than $1 million or more than $3,000 for the 2024-2025 and 2025-2026 school years, compared to a previously proposed fixed $3 million.

  • Bridge to Medicare: Once a retired employee is 65, the district shall provide a Medicare Advantage Plan (MAPPO) that’s comparable to Plan A, as secondary or additional coverage to Medicare, that the retired employee shall pay for at the same rate as an active employee.

Fresno Unified School District Superintendent Bob Nelson, at lectern, announces a contract agreement between the district and the Fresno Teachers Association has been reached during a press conference with members of both organizations and in front of students at Fresno High School on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2023. The move avoids a strike that was to commence on Wednesday. CRAIG KOHLRUSS/ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

Other benefits

  • Dual Immersion (DI) equity: Tentative agreement calls for DI programs to be provided with equitable digital adaptive resources for English Language Arts and math, quarterly report cards for all DI students, plus “rich literature books” for each grade level in Spanish and Hmong programs starting in the 2024-2025 school year.

  • Confidential spaces: Plan to identify areas in schools where the district can provide adequate confidential space for student services and/or assessments like therapeutic and crisis sessions, Child Protective Services and police interviews, educational program meetings (Individualized Education Programs, 504 plans for disabled students, and Student Study Teams) among others.

  • Mileage for Home Hospital Instructors (HHIs): Parties agreed to reimburse HHI for mileage when traveling from schools to and between students’ homes and/or hospitals to provide instruction.

  • Additional supply funds: An extra $500 per educator will be allotted for supplies and/or materials to be used for services and instruction to students as proposed previously.

  • A seat at the table for some budget decisions: Contract includes a pilot “district leadership team” including FTA and FUSD representatives to assess 50% of the district’s unused unrestricted general fund savings starting in the 2024-2025 school year. (Funds could potentially be used for one-time off-schedule payments, additional contributions to the Joint Health Management Board fund or, “any matter within the scope of bargaining.”)

Unionized educators are expected to start voting to approve the tentative agreement on Wednesday. If approved, the district would then likely ratify the contract at the Dec. 6 board meeting.