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Teachers Union: FUSD Should Protect Health Fund in 2020-21 Budget

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The Fresno Teachers Association says Fresno Unified School District’s proposals to balance the 2020-21 budget could result in higher healthcare costs for employees and will reassign teachers from much-needed special assignment roles.

In addition, the FTA says the district should dip into its substantial “rainy day” reserves fund to make up any shortfall in revenues.

FTA also is questioning the administration’s proposal to reassign some teachers now on special assignment back into the classroom to fill vacancies. Those teachers will be needed in their special assignment roles, now more than ever, to support the social-emotional needs of students as they return to school following the coronavirus lockdown in March and also to support special education students, the union says.

But the union has backed off a budget proposal that it was recommending — and had presented to teachers — to eliminate the Designated Schools program, which provides additional instruction time and teacher training meetings at 40 elementary schools where students struggle with academic performance.

 

(Click image for more info. & please read in its entirety)
Dear FTA Members,

Thank you for all of the work you’ve done…

Posted by Fresno Teachers Association on Saturday, June 6, 2020

The board will consider the administration’s finalized budget proposal before voting on it at Wednesday’s board meeting, which will be held via Zoom teleconference. The public meeting is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m.

Preparing for Big Budget Cuts

Districts across California were warned to prepare for massive budget cuts for the next several years because of state revenue losses created by the economic shutdowns that accompanied efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19.

At a special meeting last Thursday, the trustees learned that one-time savings from the current school year for transportation, utilities, and other expenses, plus trimming travel and not filling vacant positions will help balance next year’s budget.

The administration, which has emphasized repeatedly that the district will not lay off employees,  proposes a freeze on adding six elementary schools to the 40 already in the Designated Schools program and returning teachers on special assignment back into classrooms.

However, there is a disagreement between the Legislature on Gov. Gavin Newsom on cutting education funding. Last week, state lawmakers rejected billions of dollars in cuts to public schools and healthcare that Newsom had proposed.

Union Questioned Value of Designated Schools

To close an expected $27 million budget gap, the teachers union previously had told members that the district should discontinue the Designated Schools program that provides an extra 30 minutes of instruction time daily and extra 10 days of teacher planning time to raise students’ academic performance.

But after the district provided updated budget proposals last week that reduced the expected shortfall, the FTA shifted its focus toward making sure that employees don’t see an increase in healthcare costs or a drop in services.

FTA contends that if the district tapped into the district’s $113 million reserve, the district could balance next year’s budget without jeopardizing employee healthcare reserves. Fresno Unified administrators want to hold off on using the reserves until subsequent years when further decreases in state funding for education are expected.

With the pandemic continuing, higher healthcare costs could strain the fund, the union says.

Anthony Elementary teacher Claudia Vargas, who opposed FTA’s proposal to discontinue Designated Schools, contends the union was trying to protect the healthcare fund at the expense of some of the district’s neediest students.

Vargas emailed a letter last week to union president Manuel Bonilla questioning the union’s motives.

“Cutting the funding for Designated Schools would result in the loss of an equivalent to 15 days of classroom instruction,” she wrote. “The reality is that due to this unforeseen school closure, students will be starting the next school year with a deficit in their learning. Yet, you cavalierly propose that FUSD should take away these valuable resources from our most vulnerable students in exchange for an uncertain promise that doing away with funding for Designated Schools would ensure that health insurance premiums would remain low for all Teachers.”

Support from Trustee

On Tuesday, in response to tweets from FTA members about the effectiveness of Designated Schools, trustee Veva Islas said the district should continue the program unless there are better alternatives to boost academic performance.

Here’s another one:

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Superintendent Bob Nelson said in an online video message that the employees’ health fund reserves are not in jeopardy, contrary to the union’s concerns.

The fund stands at $107 million and is expected to remain above $100 million through 2022, when the district and union are scheduled to re-enter contract negotiations, Nelson said.

Superintendent’s Video Message 6.8.20 from Fresno Unified on Vimeo.

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