Farmersville Unified, teachers union reach an impasse in negotiations

Administration and Farmersville Teachers Association are scheduled for mediation this month to settle their ongoing labor dispute

FARMERSVILLE – After months of negotiations, Farmersville Unified and its teachers union are heading to mediation to resolve their labor dispute.

Superintendent Paul Sevillano announced the impasse at the May 10 meeting of the Farmersville Unified School Board. He said the district issued its “last, best and final offer” to the Farmersville Teachers Association (FTA) on March 30. The offer included a 4% raise, a fully funded health care plan, and an increase of $10 to their hourly rate. The offer also included a $4,000 one-time stipend for concurrent instruction for the 2022-23 school year in addition to a $4,000 stipend for the 2021-22 year through a separate memorandum of understanding (MOU). 

On April 25, the teacher’s union declined the offer and countered with a salary increase of 5% instead of 4%. Sevillano said the district declined and filed for an impasse on May 2 with the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB), a quasi-judicial agency overseeing labor issues between public agencies and their employees. The two parties are scheduled for a mediation hearing with PERB on May 19.

“We are hopeful to reach an agreement,” Sevillano said.

If recent meetings are any indication, neither side is likely to budge anytime soon. Teachers have said the 4% is not enough to keep up with the 7.5% inflation, not enough to retain experienced teachers and less than the cost of expensive training programs to bring new teachers up to speed. Teachers, parents and community members have packed the boardroom since March to voice their concerns about pay, hostile work environment and administrative overreach.

“The offer on the table isn’t horrible, but judging from the amount of teachers here it obviously isn’t enough,” said Rebecca Sickles, a sixth grade teacher at Freedom Elementary. “That should mean something.”

After the meeting, teachers said the district is in a good financial position and can afford the difference between 4% and 5%, which amounts to $135,000 spread across the district’s 136 teachers, according to the district’s 2021-22 budget. It is far less than the more than $2 million the district included in fully funded health and welfare benefits in its offer. The average teacher salary in Farmersville in 2020-21 was $77,012, about $400 more than Exeter Unified ($76,611), just $100 more than Cutler-Orosi Joint Unified ($79,936) and just $100 less than Woodlake Unified ($77,133), according to Ed-Data.org. Those numbers did not include contracts already signed in other districts for upcoming 2022-23 school year. Those districts had similar enrollment sizes to Farmersville Unified, which had an average daily attendance of about 2,300 students in the 2020-21 school year.

Lisa Preheim, a Farmersville High School teacher, said Sevillano made statements at an April school board meeting that Farmersville teacher salaries are lower because they prioritize lower class sizes. However, Preheim shared data from the California Department of Education that shows class sizes at Farmersville High School are on the rise. In 2020-21, the number of classes with 33 or more students doubled in English and math and quadrupled in social science while the number with 22 or fewer students dropped by half, according to the state’s School Accountability Report Cards. ELA, math and science classes have at least four fewer students on average at Woodlake High School and eight fewer in classes at Exeter High School. 

“This data indicates that our core class sizes are larger than most in comparable schools,” Preheim said.

Heading into the 2021-22 school year, FUSD’s total revenues were $43.3 million with total expenditures of $39.3 million, according to Ed-Data.org, a partnership between the California Department of Education, EdSource and Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team. Farmersville Unified began the school year with $8.5 million in reserves, about 17.87% of its operating budget, and $7 million more than the 3% required by the state, according to the district’s 2021-22 budget.

Eric Dill, vice president of the California Association of School Business Officers, said there is no recommended percent of reserves which can be applied to all districts because the state’s nearly 1,000 school districts are too varied in their financial resources. Small, single school districts often keep higher reserves because a large purchase could eat up the funds quickly, while large, unified school districts may have a healthy mix of state and federal education funding as well as property tax, giving them more options to weather recessions and declining enrollments. Dill did say the Government Financial Officers Association, a trade group for all public financial administrators, recommends 17% in reserves or about 2 months of their annual operating budget.

“A small school district might have as much as 50% in reserve,” Dill said.

In an email exchange after the meeting, Sevillano said the district actually has a reserve of 37% of its budget, about $15.8 million, but about 15% of that is in one-time, restricted funds which can only be spent on school safety and learning loss and not for ongoing salaries and benefits. These funds will expire in September 2023 and 2024. Sevillano also said district enrollment has fallen by 6.9% since 2019, which will affect the school’s average daily attendance funding, and the state may announce changes to the Local Control Funding Formula, supplemental funding provided for at-risk student groups, when the Governor releases his May Revise Budget later this month.

The ultimate test for salary and benefit increases is whether the district can afford increases in the future years,” Sevillano said. “This involves projecting district revenues and expenses for 3 years out to ensure the district can meet its required minimum reserves in the future.”

However, Farmersville Unified spent $5,556 per student in teacher salaries 2020-21, about $300 less than the state average, but more than similar sized districts in nearby Exeter ($5,095) and Woodlake ($5,184), according to Ed-Data.org.

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