FUSD, Farmersville teachers continue salary standoff

Farmersville Unified teachers picket for “Fair Pay” before the Tuesday night Board Meeting.(Kenny Goodman)

Farmersville Teachers Association, Farmersville Unified School District continue to clash over teacher salaries, pushing them to move to the fact finding stage of negotiations

FARMERSVILLE – The teachers and school district have reached an impasse as they continue negotiation for teacher’s salaries. The teachers insisted on competitive wages while FUSD is battling the budget.

After months of negotiations over teacher’s salaries, Farmersville Unified School District (FUSD) and the Farmersville Teachers Association (FTA) have hit another deadlock, and will be continuing the dispute over wage through a third-party organization.

After failing to come to an agreement on negotiating salaries, FUSD and the FTA have left mediation behind and are now entering the fact-finding stage of negotiations. The parties are currently in the process of finding a third-party organization, of which they must agree upon, to look at the facts and determine the best outcome to the situation; otherwise, the FTA could enter a teacher’s strike.

“The district has shown an inability to prioritize the classroom and instead use taxpayer dollars to lighten their own workload and give themselves large raises hidden behind title changes,” FTA said in written statements to The Sun-Gazette. “FTA has reached out to the school board multiple times to sit down with us and listen to our concerns about the district’s unwillingness to put students first.”

However, from FUSD’s side, the district affirms it simply doesn’t have the money for higher pay in this year’s budget. The FTA disagrees, insinuating that the district prioritizes the wrong things instead of investing in the long-term well-being of students, which from their perspective, means having a higher teacher retention rate.

“We have done everything we can to try and work with the district. We made a good-faith effort in mediation on March 12. We made significant movement, but the district and their attorney showed no real effort to resolve this,” the FTA said.

The FTA explained via email that, as an act of good faith, the FTA did not picket outside the school district office before the last school board meeting. This is after months of them picketing before every school board meeting to draw attention to their concerns.

As reported by The Sun-Gazette multiple times on the matter, the FTA believes that FUSD’s pay rates for its teachers should at least be comparable to other districts of similar size, such as Exeter and Woodlake school districts, which FUSD cannot currently compete with.

During negotiations back in February, FUSD stood firm in their offer of a 2% raise. While the exact percentage increase was not disclosed for this round of negotiations, the district did confirm that they offered a higher percentage than 2% during mediation.

However, the FTA said the district has not tried to meet the needs of the teachers at all in negotiations, and this is why the parties are continuing on into the fact-finding stage of negotiations.

“The next step is fact-finding and more organizing. We are working with our community to hopefully show our board and district leadership that this is not just about money,” FTA president Richard Dybas said via email. “We have worked to be reasonable and act in good faith throughout the process, only to be stonewalled by an unwilling participant in the district.”

ANNUAL STATE FUNDS

One of the factors affecting the budget this year is California’s cost of living adjustment (COLA) for this year, which was 8.22%. COLA funding is a calculated increase fund and recommendation given out by the state to allow schools to offer salaries that keep up with inflation rates. According to Dybas from an interview back in February, the 2% salary increase proposed by FUSD does not fulfill the recommended 8.22% COLA adjustment.

However, from the superintendent’s perspective, meeting the recommended adjustment from COLA isn’t so simple.

“Based on several factors, FUSD’s overall budget from the 22-23 school year to the 23-24 school year dropped by approximately three percentage points,” Chavez said in a written statement on March 20.

Chavez explained the district cannot give the teachers an 8.22% increase from last year’s pay because COLA is calculated off financing for fiscal year 2023-24, meaning that the 8.22% in question actually translates to a suggested 5% wages increase for Farmersville teachers because of the decrease in the school district’s revenue.

Chavez said this is partially due to a decrease in state funding as a result of low enrollment this school year. The school district receives over $15,000 per child enrolled in the school district. Because FUSD’s enrollment has decreased, their overall revenue decreased, which – in turn – has decreased COLA funding.

“Currently, FUSD receives approximately $15,547 in revenue annually per student. Funding is based on actual attendance of students, so your students’ attendance at school is vital to their education as well as to the funding the district receives,” Chavez said. “From March 2023 to March 2024, student enrollment decreased by 94 students. This translates to a fiscal reduction of $1,461,418 in lost revenue.”

The FTA, however, believes FUSD’s reasoning does not hold water.

“The district claims that because of declining enrollment they had to fire 11 teachers all while creating seven new district office positions,” the FTA said.” If we are losing students, why do we need more office administrators? Why are we making cuts directly from the classroom and not unneeded bureaucrats? Farmersville students and parents deserve better.”

On top of the COLA adjustment, Chavez explained that the school’s Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) funding is also being decreased. The LCAP is a three-year plan that focuses on eight areas that are identified as state priorities.

The LCAP funding the school receives was restricted this year, which required FUSD to cut their spending while staying in compliance with state regulations. According to Chavez, this is due to a reduction in students who are identified under the “unduplicated count,” which are English learners, students who are eligible for free and reduced lunch and foster care students.

COVID FUNDING

One of the funds that was cut completely this year was FUSD’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds. According to Chavez, these funds were originally part of the federal government’s emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that the pandemic has slowed down, ESSER funding has ended, leaving the school district having to reevaluate their budget.

According to Chavez, all of these decreasing revenues have put the school district in a difficult situation. He said that in order to stay within state law and regulation in regards to their budget, the school district can not afford to give higher pay while also prioritizing state requirements.

“ESSER money is the federal grant that is ending this year, it’s ending in every district in the country,” Chavez said. “My predecessor, with that money, paid for some positions with the understanding that it was going to be only for three years. So now it’s time to pay the piper.

“In other words, the three years are up.”

LAYOFFS

According to Chavez, a big part of why the school district is not offering higher salaries this year is to minimize layoffs. However, even with the school’s efforts to minimize layoffs, the school board recently announced a few positions would not be continuing due to lack of funding.

“We wanted to minimize the layoffs to just the ones that we had to, because funding was ending,” Chavez said. “If we don’t lay off, then the general budget has to absorb those costs, which will further strain the available pot of money for negotiations.”

Chavez said the positions that were let go were mostly positions that were paid for out of the LCAP and Esser funding. A total of nine intervention teachers were let go because of a decrease in LCAP funds, as well as a TK-6 teacher. A psychologist and two assistant principals were also let go due to the expiration of ESSER funds.

However, the FTA explained that the school district’s layoffs don’t make sense since they are hiring more administration positions.

“The district claims that because of declining enrollment, they had to fire 11 teachers all while creating seven new district office positions,” the FTA said.

According to Dybas, not only are the layoffs further pushing out teachers, but also negatively affecting the students.

“Besides the 11 certificated positions and two assistant principals, the district has made no other cuts to positions in our district, effectively only cutting off the backs of teachers and two site administrative positions,” Dybas said. “They are cutting directly where it hurts students the most: intervention, site leadership and mental health.”

Chavez explained that the new administrative positions in question are temporary positions. He said the district has only added two new administrative positions and these positions are coordinators to help FUSD get back on their feet financially.

“The two admins we added recently (are paid by) very specific grant funding and does not impact the general fund,” Chavez wrote via emailed statements. “They are not admins per se, but they are coordinators to oversee very specific duties and their funding ends in a few years.”

NEXT STEPS

As of right now, FUSD and FTA have moved to the fact-finding process. This means they find an outside agency both parties approve of to evaluate the budget to see if the school can afford to give a higher offer, or if they don’t have the funds to give a pay increase. If the school district and the teachers association cannot come to an agreement through the fact-finding process, then the school district’s next option would be to go on strike.

“We hope that the district does the right thing and listens to its teachers and community. If they continue to refuse we will have no other option and be forced to strike. It is the last thing we as teachers want to do because we love our students,” the FTA said. “We have to fight to stop this now before we lose any more teachers.”

In the event that the teachers go on strike, Chavez said FUSD could respond in one of two ways. They could pay high substitute rates to fill the teacher’s positions until the strike is over, or they could shut down the school temporarily.

If the school shuts down, however, there is the risk of being out of compliance with the state, which requires the school to stay open for a certain number of days each year. If the school is closed for too long, then they might have to add days to the end of the school year to make up for the lost time.

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