Clovis Unified’s school psychologists say they are among the lowest paid compared with their peers in 14 other regional school districts, which is causing problems for recruitment and retention.
The school psychologists, who with mental health support providers are now represented by the ACE (Association of Clovis Educators) union, told School Board members at Wednesday’s meeting that the pay discrepancy is leading to a shortage of employees at a time when more workers are needed to address students’ mental health concerns.
In addition to the pay boost, ACE is asking the district to add 12 new school psychologist positions on top of the 77 existing jobs, of which four are currently vacant, according to ACE/CTA spokesman Carlos Mejia.
According to the union, annual starting pay for Clovis Unified school psychologists is $74,080, more than $10,000 below Central Unified ($88,010) and more than $20,000 under neighboring Fresno Unified ($98,852). Visalia Unified’s starting pay is at the top, at $128,208.
After eight years, Clovis school psychologists are paid $104,237, compared to Central’s $120,041 and Fresno’s $119,934, the union says. By the 26th year, Clovis is paying $110,626, compared to Central’s $120,041 and Fresno’s $128,854.
Contract Proposal for Big Pay Bumps
The union is proposing raising starting pay to $87,117 — which would still be among the lowest in the region — and boosting year 8 pay to $116,745 and year 26 pay to $129,946, which would include longevity pay.
The union estimates that its proposals would cost an additional $3 million to $5 million, which the district could cover with its “robust” general fund revenue of $718 million.
Increasing the number of school psychologists would even out the caseloads, which are recommended to be 700 students at elementary schools. That’s 200 fewer than Tiffany Masten said she now handles single-handedly at Dry Creek Elementary in northwest Clovis.
“More and more of my students’ needs are not met due to the overwhelmingly high number of assessments that are becoming more complicated and litigious each year, and now double the amount of a typical year,” she said.
Meanwhile, some school psychologists have left Clovis Unified for better-paying jobs, which adds to the workload of school psychologists who have to pick up their caseloads, she said.
Student Behavior Impacts Learning
School psychologist Jade Edwards said that as a district Positive Behavior Intervention Supports coordinator, she hears from teachers across the district that higher numbers of students are having more severe behaviors, which impacts learning.
“Teachers are trying to mitigate learning loss while managing these intense behaviors,” she said.
Fresno State professor Dr. Katherine Adams said she has firsthand knowledge of the importance of school psychologists because of their work with one of her two children on his individualized education program, or IEP.
Adams said the nation is facing a mental health crisis — she said her son recently lost a childhood friend to suicide — and only one in five of public-school children who report having a mental disorder receive care. She urged the School Board to pressure administrators to negotiate a fair contract for the school psychologists.
“These professionals right now may be the only trained mental health and trauma specialists for our children,” she said. “It would be a tragedy if we beat back one public health crisis (the pandemic) only to allow another one.”