Fresno teachers union blasts district's recent contract offer

The Fresno BeeOctober 11, 2013 

Union officials for Fresno Unified teachers are lambasting a proposed three-year deal giving educators a 2.5% raise in the first year and the district more leverage to discipline instructors.

Details about the months-long and largely private negotiations between Fresno Unified administrators and the union surfaced on Friday.

Superintendent Michael Hanson unveiled the district's proposals at a morning news conference at Yosemite Middle School. The district wants to allocate $56 million to boost employee salaries by 2.5% this year and by 2% in each of the following two years. Teachers began the school year without a new contract; any raises would be retroactive to the beginning of the school year.

It would also tie teacher evaluations more closely to student achievement, give the district more discretion to discipline teachers and could give teachers less flexibility in how they use their class preparation time.

The district wants to lower elementary school class sizes to 25 students starting next school year and promises an extra $500 per employee for annual health-care costs.

"We don't try to do the used-car sales pitch kind of thing, we don't try to come in with a low number and try to save $200,000 for the district," Hanson told reporters. "We go right to the edge of where we're comfortable and that's what we've done, and we're really excited about it."

Rhonnie Tinsley, executive director of the Fresno Teachers Association, said the district's most recent offer was presented as a take-it-or-leave-it deal during a 15-minute negotiation session Thursday. Union bargaining officials left the table to review the plan.

"We had no indication the district was ready to start throwing these ultimatums at us, there was no warning for that," she said.

She called the district's 2.5% raise offer "insulting" after years of salary freezes and said the district's plan unfairly strips away certain rights that were negotiated and agreed upon in years past.

Teachers are especially concerned about changes to the ways they are evaluated, she said. Under the deal, up to 30% of a teacher's annual review could be based on student achievement.

She said the union supports using student progress for teacher evaluation in certain circumstances, but she worries that using specific percentages could unfairly shape the evaluations of some teachers.

Teachers also are concerned about a proposal to remove certain steps during the discipline process which Tinsley said could punish educators before they have an opportunity to shape up.

Hanson said the sides are still a ways apart, but he's very hopeful an agreement will be reached.

Negotiations will continue on Oct. 22.

Reach the reporter at (559) 441-6412 or hfurfaro@fresnobee.com.

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