Fresno teachers union opposes extension of No Child Left Behind waiver

The Fresno BeeApril 16, 2014 

The Fresno Unified School District office building in downtown Fresno photographed Friday, January 31, 2014.

CRAIG KOHLRUSS — Fresno Bee Staff Photo Buy Photo

Officials with the Fresno teachers union are urging district administrators to follow the lead of another California school district in opting not to seek renewal of a waiver from federal accountability rules.

The one-year waivers, which were delivered last year by the federal government to Fresno Unified and seven other California districts, offer flexibility from the much-maligned No Child Left Behind law.

California is one of few states without statewide relief from the Bush-era measure; most of the districts that had gotten a waiver are reapplying for an extension in May. They're part of a consortium called the California Office to Reform Education, or CORE, a nonprofit that helped write the waiver and now oversees its implementation.

Opponents in Fresno say it was written without community and teacher input -- or a vote of approval from the school board. Teachers union officials blame the waiver for helping to stall contract talks.

The mudslinging escalated this week, following a decision by one of the CORE districts -- Sacramento City Unified -- to decide not to seek the waiver for a second year. The move is a warning signal, Fresno Teachers Association officials said in a letter sent this week urging school trustees to scrap the deal.

"Within a few days, you will be at a deadline at which you have the authority to stop the interference that has so marred the relationship between FUSD and your teachers," the letter reads. "You can end the superintendent's fascination with the outside, unregulated entity that is CORE."

Several trustees and Superintendent Michael Hanson are steadfast supporters of the relief request, which chucks requirements that all students be proficient in math and English by this year. It also frees up $8.2 million in Title I funding once dedicated to busing for transfer students and certain private tutoring services.

Trustee Janet Ryan said it's shocking to see so much hostility directed toward the waiver.

"For the first time since I've been on this board, we can direct tutoring money to the local companies that do a really good job at helping our children," she said. "I'm just stunned at the vitriol and the misinformation that is going out to teachers under the FTA."

Trustee Michelle Asadoorian said she supports parts of the waiver but wishes teachers and the school board had had a chance to weigh in when the district applied last year.

Hanson said he has every intention to submit a request for renewal next month. He defended the partnership and dispelled charges that the waiver has interfered with bargaining.

"The hindrance, the hangup, the wedge, the piece that's in the way right now at bargaining is not the existence of a CORE waiver," he said, adding that disagreement over teacher compensation packages is the primary issue.

Rick Miller, an ex-state education department official who runs CORE, also defended the waiver, saying he has "no concern" about the future of the CORE partnership. He said the rift and resolution in Sacramento, where teachers were also upset about the waiver provisions, was a local issue.

"We've always believed this idea: If it makes sense for you locally, you should do it. And if it didn't, that's fine, too," he said.

Superintendent Matthew Navo of Sanger Unified, which also has a CORE waiver, said he's had his own concerns. Even so, he said, he's convinced the new flexibility will help improve student learning.

"It's work we're going to engage in with or without the waiver," he said. "But for now, being involved in the waiver allows us to do that more and in a collaborative manner with other districts."

In Fresno, union officials say waiver provisions -- including one requiring districts to tie teacher evaluations more closely to student test scores -- have gotten in the way of contract talks. A measure changing the teacher evaluation process was in the district's contract proposal until the day impasse was declared.

Now, the union is playing up its right to strike if there's no compromise on other contract issues.

"No self-respecting union is going to let a punitive district like Fresno impose a contract," said FTA executive director Rhonnie Tinsley.

Hanson, however, called the concern over evaluations "disingenuous" and said the sides have found middle ground on that issue.

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

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