Education Lab

Fresno schools, teachers can’t agree on a contract so no summer love

Teachers at Fresno Unified School District talk about failed contract negotiations at a news conference Friday, June 9.
Teachers at Fresno Unified School District talk about failed contract negotiations at a news conference Friday, June 9.

Fresno Unified School District and the Fresno Teachers Association could not agree on a new contract by Friday, so the matter will go to mediation this summer, the president of the teachers union said.

The school district issued a statement that it will keep working on a contract “which will include working through the summer break to find a mutually acceptable resolution.”

Tish Rice, president of the Fresno Teachers Association, blamed the school district for the lack of agreement and said the union had put forth its “last, best and final offer.”

“This morning Fresno Unified failed their students and teachers by choosing to ignore key issues in bargaining, including class size, special education and safety and discipline,” she said.

Despite not reaching agreement, it’s premature to speculate on whether teachers would strike, she said.

But neither side has declared impasse yet – a necessary step before a mediator can come in, said Miguel Arias, spokesman for Fresno Unified.

The district had hoped that the union and school district would jointly declare impasse on Friday, but the union declined, he said. As a result, a recommendation to declare impasse will go to the board for action, he said.

The district said it offered a pay raise of 3.5 percent over three years, while the union said it proposed a 10 percent raise over three years.

Health care costs were also at issue.

The district offered to change the health plan to a 90-10 split instead of the current 80-20 split, and to reduce out-of-pocket expenses, in hopes of answering teacher complaints about the risks of getting slammed with big health care bills.

But Manuel Bonilla, a teacher at McLane High and a member of the union’s bargaining team, said the 90-10 plan could cost employees as it is currently written.

“If (health care) costs go up, it’s on the back of the employees, it’s not going to be on the district,” he said.

School board president Brooke Ashjian said the 90-10 split is a very good deal.

“All of the teachers, their big concern was the out-of-pocket expenses” under the current plan, he said. The 90-10 split fixes the problem, he said.

Ashjian said he likes the teachers union and considers it to be a partner. “It’s unfortunate when you have to argue with your partner over money,” he said.

On the issue of school discipline, the district and the union differ on how best to deal with the issue, he said. Ashjian said the issue is best handled in policy and not in a labor contract.

Lewis Griswold: 559-441-6104, @fb_LewGriswold