After 18 months, Fresno Unified School District Trustees voted 6-1 (Trustee Brooke Ashjian voted against) to pass the 2016-2019 Negotiated Collective Bargaining Agreement with the Fresno Teachers Association (FTA). The agreement also included a Side Letter Agreement stating, “The District and the Association agree to form a work team for the purpose of studying potential uses for special tax revenues.”
Trustee Brooke Ashjian questioned the necessity of exploring an additional tax supported by the fact that the Governor has almost doubled the Fresno Unified School Districts (FUSD) budget and funded FUSD three years ahead of schedule. The District has not yet concluded Measure Q and has almost 300 million dollars in Measure X to build classrooms.
Trustee Ashjian stated, “…We have a billion dollar budget and we are paying cash for pools, we’re paying cash for buildings, we’re paying cash for a lot of stuff and if we’re going to pay cash, let’s pay for class size reduction. Let’s balance our money like it was our money and not the school system money…”
Trustee Claudia Cazares also spoke against the parcel tax, “…The issue of creating a committee that addresses a potential proposed property tax was never discussed with this board throughout the 18 month negotiation process. It was added as a last minute item without the pre-approval of the entire board.”
Despite the last-minute addition of the Side Letter Agreement, the culmination of the 18 month negotiation process resulted in the following agreement:
- 8.5% Total Salary Increase; 3.5% ongoing salary increase retroactive to July 1, 2016, 2% ongoing salary increase effective July 1, 2017, and 1% (min) to 3% (max) ongoing salary increase based upon contingency formula for 2018-19 funding under LCFF.
- 90/10 Coinsurance; District will pay approximately $18,000 per employee per year, maximum out-of-pocket cost for single plan $2,500, maximum out-of-pocket cost for family $5,000, and District will maintain these benefit levels/premiums through 2018-19.
- Class Sizes; All grades TK through 12 will have class size reductions districtwide effective the 2018-19 school year, and TK-6 eliminate all combination classes.
Make no mistake, a parcel tax or “special tax” as a solution to class size reduction will be “thoughtfully” considered and placed on a ballot because who can say no to children again, right?
Someone in FUSD knows the optics of a campaign commercial with an overcrowded classroom and a child in the background being forgotten in a sea of children. What Fresnan would vote against an opportunity to support our teachers with a better learning environment, a smaller class size, and avoid overcrowding? This worked with Measure Q and X funding:
- New and renovated classrooms
- Safety and security improvements
- New and renovated support facilities
- Athletic facility improvements
- New and renovated CTE facilities, and
- Facility infrastructure improvements.
Measure Q and X passed successfully because classrooms and facilities needed modernization or replacement. Many voters graduated from FUSD and recall the suboptimal campus facilities. Who doesn’t want a working HVAC system or upgraded technology in the classroom for all children? Asking the voters for more money for reduction of class sizes will be different.
When the time comes, and it will, all voters should know the District has a billion dollar budget and virtually every elementary, middle, and high school has received some type of modernization or new classrooms. The problem of overcrowding should have been addressed years ago and properly maintained through fiscal responsibility. However, why should Trustees be fiscally responsible if the voters bail out the District virtually every time?
The Side Letter Agreement promises a working team to study potential uses of tax revenues. If money is so desperately needed, why does it take a “working group session” to figure it out? Clearly this is a distraction to justify asking voters for more money instead of solving the underlying problem. Responsible, accountable use of money FUSD already has.
According to Trustee Carol Mills, just because the Side Letter Agreement is included in the final agreement does not guarantee new taxes are coming, or at least this year she would not support asking the voters for more money.
More taxes in form of bond measures, parcel tax, or “special tax” sets a bad precedent moving forward. Voters can seize this opportunity to hold FUSD fiscally accountable. Perhaps the Trustees who voted for the agreement and thus the Side Letter Agreement are too busy to devote the time to perform their job duties and should not seek re-election.