Fresno Unified to get mediator, board starts budget talks

The Fresno BeeFebruary 26, 2014 

Fresno Unified's school board kicked off annual budget conversations Wednesday and also learned the state has approved the district's plan to declare an impasse over teacher contract negotiations.

A mediator will now be appointed to help iron out talks between school administrators and the local teachers union, district Superintendent Michael Hanson announced Wednesday at the school board meeting.

Both sides have been wrangling for months over the contract, which determines teacher salaries, their hours and class sizes, among other things.

The district this month filed a request for impasse with the state Public Employment Relations Board, which is responsible for deciding whether a mediator is necessary. The board approved the petition, so discussions will now continue through an appointed liaison.

The board also began discussing next school year's budget, one day after Hanson pitched plans to boost funding for school security, school councils and hiring more elementary teachers.

School board trustees offered their own wish lists. Trustee Carol Mills encouraged the board to invest in career technical education and to consider hiring an attorney who would deal with criminal cases involving students.

Other members pushed plans to spend money on adult education, programs for foster kids and a new community day school. Several trustees said they'd like to hear more input from parents and other stakeholders before setting priorities.

Budget talks will continue over the next several months. Overall, next year's spending plan will include an estimated $58 million extra in state funds.

Also at the meeting, several members of the classified employees union spoke to the school board about poverty among school cafeteria workers. More than a dozen members in union shirts showed up to support their colleagues.

Patricia Martinez, an employee at the district's Nutrition Center -- where school lunches are prepared -- said she's living on food stamps because her paychecks are so small.

"These tears are not crocodile tears," she said. "I have been homeless, I have been without food, but I have felt strong and proud to work with Fresno Unified. So please take care of us as we've taken care of you."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6412, or @hannahfurfaro on Twitter.

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