Farmersville teachers ready to walk out on strike

Close session at the FTA Strike Authorization Vote in Farmersville on April 16, 2024.(Rigo Moran)

Farmersville Teachers Association inches toward strike action against Farmersville Unified School District amidst salary disputes, budgetary clashes

FARMERSVILLE – The Farmersville Teachers Association (FTA) is teetering on an official strike against Farmersville Unified School District following months of disagreements on salary negotiations, alleging budget mismanagement against the district as it pushes for a more competitive pay.

In the Farmersville Community Center, the FTA decided on April 16 it would carry out its last resort of striking from the district if its demands for higher wages are not met. The FTA is demanding Farmersville Unified School District (FUSD) supply its teachers with increased pay in the name of competitive wages, resulting in a better education for its students in the long run.

“If the district does not act in good faith and with the same urgency as Farmersville Teachers Association, we will be forced to strike,” Farmersville Teachers Association president Richard Dybas said. “We will do whatever it takes to attract and retain highly qualified teachers for our students.”

Eighty percent of FTA members made it to the meeting to vote on whether or not to strike if they are not offered a competitive pay raise, and out of that 80%, a reported 99% of those at the meeting voted to strike.

Maria Barrios submitted her vote at the FTA Strike Authorization Vote in Farmersville on April 16, 2024. (Rigo Moran)

After nine months of negotiating, the FTA and FUSD reached an impasse in March of this year. They allowed negotiations to continue through a third-party organization for the fact-finding stage, which will verify if the feasibility of higher wages this year is achievable.

However, if the third-party organization comes back with an offer that the FTA is not satisfied with, the teachers association has voted to strike as a final attempt to get its point across.

The next negotiations between the entities will occur within the following week after the April 16 meeting.

“We’re ready to meet tomorrow, come to the table and take a fair offer that keeps us competitive,” Dybas said. “We don’t want to bankrupt the district, we understand how budgets work. But we also understand that if we continue to lose teachers, it’s going to only continue to hurt our kids.”

From FUSD’s side, Superintendent Dr. Sergio Chavez has held firm in his stance that the district cannot afford to make a higher offer this year while staying within state required budget constraints. However, according to a press release from the FTA, the teachers association believes that the district can actually provide higher offers than they are letting on.

“FUSD is misleading the community when they say they cannot afford to pay teachers a salary comparable to that of surrounding districts,” the press release stated. “Instead, they have manipulated the budget to give themselves exorbitant salary increases, hire more administrators and lessen their own work.”

Alternatively, FUSD is claiming that the FTA is the one who is misleading people regarding pay increases of district staff.

“FTA is providing misleading information as to district office salaries,” FUSD stated in its own press release. “The district had provided the district office employees with the same salary increases as provided to FTA. There have been some employees who have changed positions.”

FUSD continued the statement with, “Student education and well-being is of the utmost importance to the district and board.”

Richard Dybas announces final votes at the FTA Strike Authorization Vote in Farmersville on April 16, 2024. (Rigo Moran)

In a rebuttal to that claim of the FTA is spreading misinformation, Dybas affirmed all of the salary information they receive is from the district.

“Everything we use is off the district’s website. So we use our salary schedule, we use district salary schedules, we use what’s called the unaudited actuals, which are the numbers that the district puts out at the end of the year,” Dybas said.

He continued by suggesting a discrepancy between how FUSD and FTA interpret the salary data provided by the district.

“Maybe there was a misinterpretation,” Dybas said. “The administrative pool of money had risen a certain percentage, but that pool, raised with added positions that go into the district office, it (was) raised with the reclassification of positions where they got a raise and a new job title outside of the normal raise that they got.”

Another one of the other reasons FUSD has said they cannot afford to offer higher wages is because of low student enrollment. However, the FTA affirms they can afford it.

“When you look at unified districts in Tulare County, we are last (in pay). We’re in the middle when it comes to the amount of money we get per student, we’re in the middle of declining enrollment,” Dybas said. “Everybody else in Tulare County has figured out a way to do this. Nobody else in the county has done layoffs.”

Dybas noted that Orosi Unified School District has a higher declining enrollment than FUSD and yet their negotiations only took a day.

“At the end of the day, we can’t manage the budget, but what we can do is look around (at the district) and say, ‘how are you going to put a stop to this problem?’,” Dybas said

Dybas continued to explain that the district could stop the strike if they changed the way they manage the budget to prioritize the teachers. And from their perspective, the strike won’t only hurt the school district, it is a sacrifice on the teacher’s part as well.

“Ninety-nine percent of the people here are saying ‘I’m willing to sacrifice my salary to do what’s best for this district’,” Dybas said. “To me, that’s the selfless piece. You can say we’re all about salary as much as you want. But we’re willing to sacrifice salary, to do what’s best for kids.”

Attendees at the FTA Strike Authorization Vote in Farmersville on April 16, 2024. (Rigo Moran)

Should the teachers association strike after the fact-finding phase of negotiations finishes next week, the teachers will continue to organize and picket in Farmersville starting Tuesday, April 23.

“We’re overwhelmed by the outpouring of support that we’ve had from the community of Farmersville, the parents and everyone else that has asked us questions and actually listened to our answers. If we had that same support from our superintendent, administration and school board, who would never be put into this position,” Dybas said.

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