Written by The Business Journal Staff
A pair of labor disputes between Fresno teachers and local schools is serving to highlight the lengthy process the state is undergoing as it recovers from the economic downturn.
Faculty at both Fresno Unified School District and Fresno State are asking for pay raises reflective of increased state education funds, with the latter expected to begin a multi-day strike later this month.
Fresno State professors, lecturers, librarians and staff are among 23,000 California State University professionals represented by the statewide California Faculty Association, which is planning campus strikes between April 13 and 19. Protests are planned across the CSU system’s 23 campuses and estimated to effect 460,000 students.
The ongoing dispute is largely over CFA requests for increased salaries, which had remained stagnant during the recession. As the state-funded CSU budget starts to bounce back, unions representing CSU staff have argued for more pay raises.
But while an independent fact-finding report recently supported the CFA’s 5 percent pay raise request, CSU officials continue to resist calls for the increase.
According to CSU officials, there’s currently no room in the budget for the anticipated $70 million increase and the additional funds would need to be carved out from other unspecified university programs.
“Any attempt to pull back from these commitments would cause significant harm to students, faculty, staff and California. And as a fiscally responsible public entity, the CSU cannot commit to spend money it does not have,” said Timothy P. White, CSU chancellor, in a prepared statement.
“The best solution moving forward is to continue with our multiyear plan of increasing faculty and staff salaries while also investing in the other priorities that support student success and degree completion,” he continued.
Fresno State Joseph I. Castro issued a similar statement in response to the fact-finding report, saying 71 percent of the university’s campus state funds already go to salary and benefits, which have seen a $30 million increase since June 2013.
According to the independent report, however, “the recession severely impacted the faculty at CSU and while some progress has been made to restore the loss of competitive salaries with negotiated targeted increases, the faculty are still suffering from structural salary issues.”
The report also found that CSU faculty make comparatively less than staff at peer universities and encouraged the university system to form a comparison before going to the California Legislature or Governor for future budgets.
The report seems to have little impact on the immediate labor situation however, as CFA officials continued publicizing details of the strike plan this week, and Fresno State released a “FAQs” page on its website, outlining how the university is prepared to deal with the labor strike.
Fresno Teachers Association pushes for community budget input
Fresno Unified School District has faced its own recent battle with faculty over labor negotiations, culminating in the recent announcement of a tentative agreement with the Fresno Teachers Association.
The bargaining agreement has yet to be ratified by either the district or FTA’s members, but if approved, would provide a one-year salary package with a 5 percent ongoing salary increase and 2 percent one-time payment increase for teachers. The district would also provide $315 per FTA member, per year, for materials and supply costs in support of students.
FTA members, however, say the tentative agreement only addresses a fraction of faculty grievances with FUSD. Among other top concerns are the district’s Local Control Funding Formula funds, or LCFF, over the last few years.
The state funds are given to districts with low-income students and FUSD has received tens of millions of dollars so far through the program. Even more LCFF funds are expected to be made available to the district in the next school year, and the FTA is calling for the money to be used on smaller class sizes, campus security and providing more counseling/student support services.
“When we talk about campus safety, we are asking for trained professionals who will be here and know the students and can come alongside them, not the Fresno PD [Shotspotter] program,” said Jon Bath, FTA member and history teacher at Sunnyside High School. “These funds are for the students and should be used only to create more resources for them.”
While the district has held community meetings on LCFF funds in the past, the FTA said FUSD officials have frequently pledged LCFF funds elsewhere despite parental input.
This week, the FTA held a rally with parents and students outside the FUSD school board meeting in order to highlight their requests for next school year’s LCFF funding.
“If the board isn’t willing to even discuss the needs of our students, then maybe this community needs a new school board,” said Tish Rice, FTA president.
Bath agreed and said that while the next school board election in November will have three open seats, the current group can still make a better choice for the community.
“The district has an enormous amount of money coming to them,” Bath said. “They have time to make changes if they want to.”