What's at stake?
The deal comes after over a year-and-a-half of contract negotiations between the 4,000-member teachers union and California’s third-largest district of over 70,000 students.
Fresno Unified and the district’s teachers union have come to a tentative agreement, averting the strike the union was planning to launch in less than 24 hours.
District and union leadership made the announcement at a joint press conference in front of Fresno High School’s Royce Hall Tuesday morning.
“Today, we’ve laid the groundwork for a transformation to improve the lives of over 70,000 students in our community,” said Fresno Teachers Association President Manuel Bonilla.
“It’s been a tough start to the school year,” Superintendent Bob Nelson said. “Our students have been the innocent bystanders wading through the difficulties in negotiations, carrying that stress. You need to know that this deal is really about you.”
The deal, pending approval from FTA members later this week, comes with a 21% increase in wages over the next three years through a combination of one-time and ongoing pay bumps, adjusted class size ratios for every grade level, and updated guidelines for special education caseloads.
It also maintains some of the items the district put forward in their previous proposal Oct. 13, like a new pathway to lifetime healthcare benefits for longtime employees.
But the tentative agreement also requires between $30 and $40 million in cuts to other areas of the district’s budget for the 2024-25 school year, district spokesperson Nikki Henry told Fresnoland. That doesn’t include layoffs or getting rid of any positions, she added.
“With a $2 billion budget, we think we can make that happen and keep it as far away from the classroom as possible,” she said, “but it will mean some cuts on the district’s behalf.”
The district is also eyeing a bond measure to help fund the construction of additional spaces to accommodate the class size reductions agreed to in the deal, district leaders said.
The agreement states that 33% of the funds from a bond would go toward addressing class size reduction.
What else does the tentative deal include?
The district’s proposed 21% salary increase over three years breaks down into an 8.5% raise this school year, 3% next year, and 4.5% the following year. In addition, teachers would receive a 2.5% one-time payment next year and the following year.
Henry said this brings the average teacher salary up to over $105,000.
The raises are being funded in part by a decrease in the district’s contributions to the employees’ healthcare fund, which previously raised concerns for the union. Despite the fund’s $99 million surplus, the union worried that depleting the fund could lead to higher healthcare costs for employees.
In an interview with Fresnoland following the conference, Bonilla said that the tentative agreement mitigated those concerns by removing trigger language that costs would fall on employees in the event of a shortfall.
In terms of class size, the new ratios effective July 1, 2024 are:
- For kindergarten through third grade, 23 to one
- For fourth through sixth grade, is 28 to one
- For seventh through eighth grade, 27 to one
- For ninth through twelfth grade, 28 to one
If a teacher’s class exceeds a given ratio, the agreement stipulates that they’ll receive stipends between $2,500 and $5,000 depending on how many extra students they have.
Bonilla said the deal not only meets the union’s core bargaining issues but exceeds them.
FTA’s executive director Louis Jamerson added that some believed there would “never” come a day when district employees would receive a new pathway to lifetime medical benefits, especially after the district did away with them in 2005.
“We have commitment from Superintendent Nelson and his team to redesign and reimagine and to make this system better than it’s ever been,” he said. “You will see things change in this district that you’ve never seen before.”
FTA members will review the agreement at a membership meeting tonight and start voting on it tomorrow, Bonilla said.
What led up to the deal?
The district and the Fresno Teachers Association, which represents over 4,000 teachers and educators in California’s third-largest school district, had been in tense negotiations for over a year-and-a-half leading up to Tuesday’s announcement.
Just a week ago, FTA leadership said the district and union remained “very far apart” on issues of salary, class sizes, and special education caseloads at a press conference announcing the union’s 93.5% approval of the strike among roughly 3,700 teachers who voted.
The new agreement also comes 12 days after Bonilla tore a copy of the district’s previous contract proposal in half on stage at the Fresno Fairgrounds in front of thousands of cheering teachers.
The district had recruited roughly 2,300 substitute teachers to keep schools open during the planned strike.
Leaders on both sides alluded to the need for rebuilding trust in the future now that a strike has been averted.
“No doubt there needs to be some healing for everybody,” Bonilla said, “but really, that healing will transform this district and hopefully have a different culture – a collaborative culture that is authentic – moving forward.”