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Should Fresno Unified Use PLAs to Build Schools?



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The Fresno Unified School Board continues to grapple with whether to use project labor agreements for upcoming school construction projects such as the new southeast elementary school.
Indecision about the agreements, which are supported by labor unions but opposed by general contractors and business owners, has pushed the school’s opening back a year.

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The $44 million Juan Felipe Herrera Elementary now is scheduled to open in August 2022, chief of staff David Chavez told board members Wednesday afternoon at a PLA workshop.
Chief operations officer Karin Temple had cautioned the board in September that if it delayed advertising for bids on the project to consider a project labor agreement, the opening likely would be delayed a year.

Learning The Pros and Cons of PLAs

Attorney Phil Henderson of Orbach Huff Suarez + Henderson, which negotiates project labor agreements, was joined by Chuck Riojas of the Fresno, Madera, Tulare, Kings Building and Construction Trades Council and Nicole Goehring of Associated Builders and Contractors in a discussion of the pros and cons of PLAs.
The city of Fresno has a PLA for its airport expansion.

“If we’re going to be submitting for matching money for our projects, we need to position ourselves as best as we can to get that matching money.”Trustee Carol Mills
Conflicting studies have raised questions about whether PLAs contribute to higher costs and limit opportunities for apprentice workers. The trustees expressed interest in having career technology pathways incorporated in any PLA to benefit high schoolers preparing for construction trades careers.
One big advantage to having a PLA: Fresno Unified’s upcoming projects could jump closer to the head of the line to get state school construction money under the language in Proposition 13, the $15 billion proposition on the March ballot, chief financial officer Ruthie Quinto told the board.

Priority Goes to PLA Projects

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Carol Mills

Getting the biggest bang for the district’s buck is key, trustee Carol Mills said. “Part of our obligation is to maximize the funding that’s available for our contracts,” she said. “We didn’t create the state provisions, but we are going to have to follow them. If we’re going to be submitting for matching money for our projects, we need to position ourselves as best as we can to get that matching money.
“Because every school district in the state is going to be looking for that matching money, and there’s going to be more requests than there is money available.”
Mills and other trustees expressed their support for continuing to consider a PLA for Herrera School, and possibly other future projects.

Support Waning for Bond Measure

But Goehring noted that support for Proposition 13, based on the latest Public Policy Institute of California survey, appears to be slipping and is polling at less than 50% approval.

“I’m not suggesting that a PLA had anything to do with that,” she said. “But if there are contractors in the community that you would want to be supportive of your bond, you definitely would want to keep the opportunities open for everyone. So I would encourage you to keep fair and open competition in your district.”

Claudia Cazares

That sparked an angry comment at the close of the workshop from board president Claudia Casares. Compared to the vast amounts of construction bids that the district has awarded to the private sector, Herrera School is a “tiny little (PLA) project that we may or may not do, (that) deserves our support.
“I would like to think that the history of all the projects that we’ve had in this district, and the partnerships we’ve had with our private entities in this district, will be more than enough to have their support in our future bond.”
The trustees voted later Wednesday for a resolution to put a $325 million bond for school facilities on the March 3 ballot.

Nancy Price is a multimedia journalist for GV Wire. A longtime reporter and editor who has worked for newspapers in California, Florida, Alaska, Illinois and Kansas, Nancy joined GV Wire in July 2019. She previously worked as an assistant metro editor for 13 years at The Fresno Bee. Nancy earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her hobbies include singing with the Fresno Master Chorale and volunteering with Fresno Filmworks. You can reach Nancy at 559-492-4087 or Send an Email