Fresno Unified’s teachers union held a town hall meeting Monday to remind parents and others about the district’s low student achievement, argue for more teachers and support staff, and begin mapping plans to find candidates it likes for next year’s school board election.
More than 400 teachers, parents, students and community members packed into Hope Lutheran Church to listen the Fresno Teachers Association lay out its agenda for the 2016 school board elections – occasionally cheering as union leaders described their goals.
FTA president Tish Rice said that Fresno Unified was expecting $53 million in new state funding, but the district actually got an additional $123 million from the state’s Local Control Funding Formula. She added that the funding came with the restriction that the district ask the community how the money should be spent.
After the union surveyed the community in similar meetings earlier this year, leaders said they found people wanted smaller classes, more teachers and support staff and expanded vocational electives.
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“Working at Fresno High for the past 16 years, I thought every school had a full time nurse, social worker, school psychologist, because we did at Fresno High. But now being in this role (as union president), I realize there are inequities across the district,” Rice said.
The union’s executive director, Louis Jamerson, said students in Fresno Unified aren’t performing to expectations and that additional teachers and smaller classes would help to improve student learning.
It is a crime that a district with $825 million (in its budget) ... and we don’t have a full time registered nurse at every school site.
Louis Jamerson, Fresno Teachers Association executive director
The “percentage of third grade students reading at grade level – this year we’re at 24.6 percent – that’s an F,” Jamerson said. The “percentage of fifth grade students proficient in math – 14.63 percent – that’s another F.”
Jamerson said the low numbers create serious problems, including trapping low-performing students in poverty for generation after generation.
He said the union’s Stand With Students campaign means they’re going to fight for classroom caps, vocational options and school nurses.
“It is a crime that a district with $825 million (in its budget) ... and we don’t have a full time registered nurse at every school site,” Jamerson said.
He added that the $825 million budget will reach nearly $900 million next year.
The union is building its election plan they call “transforming public education,” in which the union will build teams of community members that will support candidates who will support the union’s goals if they get elected.
Next year, three seats will be up for election – Area 2 (represented by Luis A. Chavez, Roosevelt High area), Area 5 (Carol Mills, Fresno High area) and Area 6 (Janet Ryan, Hoover High area).
If their candidates got elected, the union would ask them to attend community meetings to grade them on their effectiveness, Jamerson said.
“We would host town hall meetings in each (high school) region; we would invite the newly elected board member that we just helped get elected, and we would use an accountability report card to assess their effectiveness and follow through in what they committed to us and our students,” Jamerson said.
Union leaders’ plan to begin their push in January 2016 for trustee seats up for election in November. The schools include Fresno, Roosevelt and Hoover high schools. The push for board members for Edison, Sunnyside, McLane and Bullard high schools would happen in 2018 leading up to elections in those areas.
The union has had mixed success in recent years persuading voters to elect FTA-backed candidates for the Fresno Unified board. In 2006, union efforts ousted two incumbents; two years later, union support helped elect two of three union-backed candidates to the board. But in 2012, all three of the union’s candidates lost.