Fresno Unified School District’s preparations for the new school year including lining up 4,000 substitute teachers to take over classrooms if the teachers union calls a strike, Superintendent Bob Nelson said Monday after a news conference.
Fresno families have already been through a lot in the past couple of years because of the pandemic and school closings, and the district is determined to prevent more school closures, Nelson told GV Wire.
“Our No. 1 priority is to make sure that our schools are open, safe and available for learning,” he said. “I think the last thing our families want is for another opportunity for their kids not to be able to attend school. And so we’re going to do everything we can to make sure the impact on families is minimal and that schools are open, safe and available.”
The district’s preference is for teachers to remain on the job and in their classrooms to provide educational continuity for students, Nelson said.
Sub Pay = $500 Per Day
The sub would be paid $500 per day, which would not bust the district’s budget, Nelson said. That’s because teachers don’t earn pay or work credits for the days they are on strike, he said.
It’s not the first time that the district has prepared to bring in thousands of sub teachers, he said. In 2017 with a potential strike looming, Fresno Unified prepared for the same contingency.
But Nelson said he’s hopeful the district and the Fresno Teachers Association will be able to agree on a new contract and avoid a strike. The two sides are in the midst of a fact-finding phase conducted by the Public Employment Relations Board, which may be completed by the first or second week of September, he said.
PERB is evaluating the union’s “last, best, and final offer” and the district’s proposal, which are many millions of dollars apart, before recommending a resolution.
Under FUSD’s proposal, the average annual teacher salary in Fresno would exceed $100,000, Nelson said, adding that the union’s proposal would “bankrupt” the district.
The union’s pay proposal seeks a bigger share of the cost-of-living increase provided by the state Legislature as well as better health care benefits.
At a rally in downtown Fresno in May, FTA members indicated by consensus that they would support the union calling a strike authorization vote in October if there is no contract by Sept. 29.
Nelson acknowledged that if Fresno Unified has to hire 4,000 substitute teachers, it could affect nearby school districts.
“We need to telegraph that because it’s going to impact other local districts that we’re siphoning subs into the system at $500 a day,” he said.
Other Back-to-School News
At the news conference held next to the fountain at Roosevelt High School in 101-degree heat, Nelson also talked about other back-to-school preparations, including:
- The district is providing a new tool for families to contact teachers and schools in the ParentSquare app, which will replace the PeachJar app. Parents will be able to get alerts by text, emails, or phone through the app and communicate directly with educators. They should make sure to update their contact information either through the Atlas Parent Portal or at their child’s school, Nelson said.
- Families should check their internet and Wi-Fi connections and their children’s devices to make sure all are in working order prior to the start of school next Monday. The district has expanded the number of Family Learning and Technology Support centers, which are now open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily at Holman, Burroughs, and Storey elementary schools, Tioga Middle School, and Edison and Duncan Polytechnical high schools.
- In addition to required immunizations, students without insurance or who have Medi-Cal insurance may also arrange for free sports physicals at the health clinic at Tioga Middle School.
- Fresno Unified is focusing on student safety by hiring an executive director who will review safety plans and make recommendations for needed changes. Each elementary school will have a campus safety assistant, and each comprehensive high school will have additional campus safety officers. The district is also working with the city of Fresno to develop needed infrastructure to provide safe routes to school.
- The district is piloting vaping sensors at eight middle and high school sites and also has installed additional cameras outside restrooms.
- Work is continuing on the district’s literacy initiative, which has a goal of having every student reading by the end of the first grade.