Fresno Unified Superintendent Bob Nelson signs a tentative agreement with the Fresno Teachers' Association to avert a strike on Oct. 31, 2023. Credit: Julianna Morano / Fresnoland

What's at stake:

The Fresno Unified teachers union was critical of the district’s starting salary for teachers as one of the lowest in the San Joaquin Valley. Under the new deal, Fresno teachers’ starting and maximum salaries will surpass what’s currently offered in Fresno County’s largest districts.

Fresno Unified teachers landed what union leaders call a “historic” contract with the district last week, featuring raises, reduced class sizes, and other wins for the union.

Salaries specifically are set to grow 16% over the next three years. Fresno teacher raises include additional 2.5% bonuses in 2024-25 and 2025-26, ultimately raising the average teacher salary to over $105,000, according to the district.

So where will that leave wages in California’s third-largest school district, compared with Fresno County’s other largest districts?

Here’s a snapshot of what Fresno Unified teachers will receive under the new contract and how neighboring districts compare.

How do recent Fresno teacher raises compare to other large local school districts?

Fresno Unified, like other K-12 districts in California, pays teachers according to a salary schedule. That means their pay grows in increments according to how many years they’ve worked for the district and how much additional education and professional development they’ve obtained.

Under the new contract, the starting salary for fully credentialed teachers in Fresno Unified will rise to $65,414.22 by 2026, according to district spokesperson AJ Kato. The maximum pay will be $118,634.21 and will require teachers to work in the district for 14 years and obtain 75 postgraduate units.

This salary range is up from the previous starting salary of $56,012.97 and max of $104,631.74, according to the pre-settlement salary schedule for the 2023-24 school year.

The Fresno Teachers Association, which represents more than 4,000 teachers and other educators in the district of over 70,000 students, criticized the old starting salary as one of the lowest in the central San Joaquin Valley.

Before the settlement was reached, Fresno Unified’s starting and max salary was lower than Fresno County’s other two largest school districts.

Clovis Unified, a little over half the size of FUSD with roughly 40,000 students, offers a starting salary of $60,822 and a max of $116,907, according to this year’s salary schedule. Teachers need to work for 25 years and obtain a master’s degree and 75 postgraduate units to reach the top salary in Clovis.

Clovis’ current average teacher salary is $93,219.11, district spokesperson Kelly Avants added in an email to Fresnoland.

Central Unified enrolls over 15,000 students and is the third-largest district in Fresno County. Central’s starting pay for teachers is $57,263.99 and tops out at $108,591.13 after working 19 years and obtaining 75 postgraduate units, according to the current salary schedule.

Central Unified did not respond to multiple requests for the current average teacher salary.

Fresno Unified teachers will also reach the maximum pay in a shorter period of time than it takes teachers in Clovis and Central.

Other union wins in the new contract

Outside of salary, Fresno Unified teachers’ competitive benefits package became even more lucrative.

The contract includes a new pathway to lifetime medical benefits for longtime district employees. The district suspended its previous lifetime benefit plan in 2005 after deeming it fiscally unsustainable.

Under the new plan, employees at or above age 57-and-a-half who have worked for the district for 20 years are eligible for seven-and-a-half years of gap coverage once they retire.

Once a retiree qualifies for Medicare at age 65, the new program offers a coinsurance plan to cover the expenses that Medicare doesn’t, according to district leaders

The union also secured commitments from the district to cut back on class size and special education teacher caseloads as well, which emerged as top bargaining priorities for the union in the days leading up to their successful strike authorization vote in late October.

Not all of the union’s proposals over the past year-and-a-half of negotiations made it into the new contract, however, including a number of investments they proposed related to student well-being.

In the first draft of bargaining priorities the union put together in April before contract talks officially opened, the teachers union asked for over $50 million in student-related investments.

That included anything from funding free laundry service for all students to opening high school parking lots to homeless students and their families at night alongside paid security. 

Many of these items remained word-for-word in the first formal set of proposals they passed across the table in November.

The union said these nontraditional proposals were part of their plan to “reimagine education” in the district where over 85% of students are considered “socioeconomically disadvantaged” by the state of California. The district also has a history of low performance on statewide math and reading assessments, exacerbated in recent years by the pandemic.

Though these student-related investments didn’t spur contract language, the union and district agreed to form a new joint decision-making body that will choose how to spend $30 million over the next three years on student needs.

The school board on Nov. 1 passed a resolution formalizing that new decision-making body, alongside their vote approving the new contract.

The resolution states that the committee will meet monthly and decide spending priorities to address student homelessness, disciplinary alternatives to suspensions, access to free tutoring, transportation for special education students, and other areas.

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