Education

School board president sparks teacher outrage for saying strike is likely

Tish Rice, left, president of the Fresno Teachers Association union, reacted strongly to published comments by Fresno Unified School District board president Brooke Ashjian, right, that the district’s teachers will “probably” strike.
Tish Rice, left, president of the Fresno Teachers Association union, reacted strongly to published comments by Fresno Unified School District board president Brooke Ashjian, right, that the district’s teachers will “probably” strike.

Recent comments made by Fresno Unified’s school board president have sparked new concern that a teacher strike is inevitable.

“There’s probably going to be a strike,” FUSD school board president Brooke Ashjian told a reporter for Charger Online, Bullard High School’s student newspaper, last week.

“There’s 18 articles that (FTA) brought. That means that there’s 18 different things that they want to talk about or get solved in their contract, along with money,” Ashjian said. “So there’s money and there’s 18 pieces of legislation that they want to stick in their contract or it’s in their contract that they want to add to or take from. So, when you have to solve the money and the 18 issues, it’s very unlikely that we’re going to solve all those within 30 or 45 days.”

While tensions have been high since the Fresno Teachers Association voted to authorize a strike in October after a year of failed negotiations over pay and benefits, class size, student discipline and more, the union – and the district – have voiced hope that a strike can still be avoided.

If the leaders of Fresno Unified feel that a strike is inevitable, what does that say about our collective leadership?

Tish Rice, Fresno Teachers Association president

Ashjian’s comments have the FTA questioning, though, if the district is sincerely working toward a solution, union president Tish Rice said.

“If the leaders of Fresno Unified feel that a strike is inevitable, what does that say about our collective leadership?” she said. “To me, it demonstrates that instead of working together and listening as adults and professionals, we are publicly failing our students and families of Fresno Unified, and the Fresno community as a whole.”

This explainer video created by Fresno Unified School District explains the district's ongoing negotiations with the Fresno Teachers Association.

The district and FTA are awaiting a fact-finding report, expected Jan. 18, in which an outside party will recommend a resolution. Then, the two sides can decide if they want to abide by the recommendations or move forward with a strike.

“We don’t need to wait (for the fact-finding report) to get a deal done,” Rice said. “If both sides agree, we can certainly come back to the bargaining table and work to resolve our issues. The district keeps harping on ‘all of these issues,’ but there’s a lot of items on the table because there’s a lot to improve in Fresno Unified.”

I think we just really need to step back, stay in our own lanes and let the process happen.

Valerie Davis, Fresno Unified trustee

Fresno Unified trustee Valerie Davis, who was a student when teachers last went on strike in 1978, said Ashjian’s comments are “a shame,” and that she feels a solution is near.

“We are so close to being done. I think we just really need to step back, stay in our own lanes and let the process happen,” Davis said. “A lot of this is premature. We feel we have addressed a lot of the issues, if not all of them in some way. We have given a lot of things and not asked for anything in return.”

Fresno Unified Superintendent Bob Nelson and Fresno Teachers Association President Tish Rice weigh in on a potential strike.

Trustee Carol Mills is also hopeful. “The board is committed to taking all reasonable steps to avoid a strike and has committed to accept all major recommendations in the fact-finding report,” she said in an email. “FTA should do the same. A strike is not inevitable, but if one occurs, the district is prepared.”

Jon Bath, negotiations chair for FTA, said Ashjian’s comments were “disappointing and discouraging” and are indicative of what he believes is a general apathy toward teachers from Fresno Unified leaders.

“The district has spent a lot more effort on preparing for a strike than they have on actually negotiating with teachers,” Bath said. “They don’t think we have a voice. They don’t think it matters.”

In a statement, Fresno Unified spokesman Miguel Arias said the district will honor the major recommendations that come from the fact-finding report, and has invited FTA to do the same.

“The district continues to work toward a resolution with our labor partner and is hopeful that the fact-finding report will help us find a path forward,” he said.

Ashjian did not return requests for comment.

Mackenzie Mays: 559-441-6412, @MackenzieMays

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