EDITORIAL: Parents need to be heard in FUSD's plan for extra money

The Fresno BeeNovember 8, 2013 

Parents' ideas, as well as those of Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson, should be considered when deciding how the district should spend an extra $15 million from the state.

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When it comes to deciding how to use extra money headed to Fresno Unified School District, Superintendent Michael Hanson and the Fresno Teachers Association have weighed in.

Hanson hopes to lengthen the school day by 30 minutes at schools with high percentages of low-income students. This would require extra pay for teachers at these schools. The superintendent also is looking at lowering class sizes in kindergarten through third grade.

The teachers union, however, wants the anticipated $15 million in additional state funding spent on reducing class sizes in all grades.

What's missing? The voices of district parents -- the people who are paying higher taxes funding the effort to rebuild California's education systems.

The families in Fresno Unified are important stakeholders. Without increased parental and community involvement, the district -- plagued by absenteeism, discipline problems and high dropout rates -- has little chance of turning around.

But with Gov. Jerry Brown's new funding formula offering Fresno Unified hope of better days, the superintendent and teachers union are going toe-to-toe instead of reaching out to parents and other community partners. Let's put the brakes on this boxing match now.

Fresno Unified trustees should hold public meetings in their districts. It could be that parents want upgrades to the district's long-neglected career education programs. They might like Hanson's idea of longer school days. Or they might prefer reduced class sizes.

Right now, we have no idea what they desire. Parents are viewed by district leadership and the teachers union as outsiders in the wrangling over how to spend the money flowing to the district to help disadvantaged students succeed.

The district needs to take the time to hear from people other than Hanson and union leaders.

After the parents have their say, the trustees should approve a plan for the extra money that is based on well-documented educational research.

We need to know how first-rate vocational programs affect graduation rates and employment prospects. We need to know how longer school days impact student achievement. And we need to know whether smaller class sizes contribute to increased learning.

This new money is too important for trustees not to consider all options.

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