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Here’s how the Clovis Unified candidates stand on teachers unionizing, pay, mental health

The Fresno Bee - 11/1/2022

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As Clovis Unified School District is the state’s largest school system without a union, teacher pay isn’t hashed out during negotiations. Instead, it’s often left up to budgetary talks among administrators.

Then it’s up to Clovis’s seven elected trustees to decide.

Candidates seeking vacant seats on the Clovis Unified school board weighed in on current unionization efforts that cite compensation, teacher pay and mental health funding.

Vying for the Area 1 seat vacated by the February resignation of Trustee Susan Hatmaker are parent and communications consultant Samantha Bauer, Realtor Joanne Burton, parent and business executive Chuck Der Manouel and parent and nonprofit executive Clint Olivier.

Candidates Deena Combs-Flores, a parent and teacher, and Bill Whitmore, a retired business owner, are seeking the Area 6 seat from which longtime board member Elizabeth ‘Betsy’ Sandoval is retiring.

Even though candidates must represent the area they live in, all Clovis voters can vote in each race.

The Education Lab contacted the candidates and attended interviews with the Bee’s Editorial Board. Bauer’s and Olivier’s answers, which they provided in a video call with the Editorial Board, were shortened for clarity. The following candidates’ answers are verbatim from emailed responses: Burton, Der Manouel and Combs-Flores.

Whitmore didn’t respond to numerous emails and hasn’t attended any candidate forums or interviews to answer the following questions.

Teachers unionizing

Despite having some of the best student achievement scores in the area, Clovis Unified educators have had the lowest pay.

Some argue that a union could help teachers get higher pay, while others argue that unionizing will push an unwanted agenda onto teachers.

The Association of Clovis Educators, the most recent effort to unionize teachers, failed to meet their petition deadline to unionize, but organizers alleged the district’s decades-long influence and support of the Faculty Senate is unfairly impeding efforts to unionize.

The Faculty Senate is considered the district’s teacher group that supports them in their duties and communicates on their behalf. Working like an advisory panel, the Faculty Senate represents teachers at the district level during decision-making but cannot bargain or negotiate.

Some Clovis teachers have argued against unionizing while urging the district to keep its Faculty Senate.

While the school board has no say over whether teachers unionize, here are how candidates feel about unionization.

Q: Can you explain whether you support or oppose teachers’ efforts to unionize in Clovis Unified School District?

Bauer:Do teachers deserve to have a happy, welcoming and safe working environment? Absolutely. Is the answer a teacher’s union? That’s a decision that the teachers need to find out.

There’s a reason why teachers didn’t garner the signatures they needed in time to move forward for a vote. The teachers I talk to know that there is not a straight line from teachers’ union to teachers’ satisfaction. In fact, quite the contrary, in a lot of cases. They don’t want to give up their individual power to negotiate with their school principal on what makes best sense for them. That’s where the rub and resistance comes in.

But let me be clear, as a member of the board, I have no authority over whether teachers vote to unionize or not. That is their decision.

Burton:I would only support a union for teachers that was optional, such as allowing the teachers to either opt in or opt out of a union without any issues or loss in pay due to union pressure.

Der Manouel:This question of unionization seems like a solution seeking a problem. Typically, unionization efforts are tied to disputes between workers and the employers. That doesn’t seem to exist in CUSD. If there were examples of a public school district that adopted a union and furthered the education and experience of the students, I would listen.

Olivier: I support them doing whatever it is that they want to do. CUSD has a great tradition with the Faculty Senate and a great tradition of working with teachers. Our teachers believe in the mission and what they’re (the school district is) trying to do. I want to see that continue.

Ideally, I don’t want to see the California Teachers Association come in and conscript educators who may not want to be a part of something like that. It’s my hope that teachers will get to a resolution on unionization — or not — and that they put the Clovis Unified kids first. And I have faith that they will do that.

Combs-Flores:My answer is two-fold. Overall, I usually do not support unions due to their political views; I support a free market economy. But in answer to your question, I would support teachers’ efforts to unionize from the aspect that by doing so, it would help increase their pay and provide liability protection from students and/or administrators who do not treat our teachers right.

Teacher pay

CUSD teachers make $73,614 in comparison with the statewide average of $85,154, according to Clovis Unified data.

This school year, Clovis educators received a one-time 7% raise — what some educators considered a “a down payment” on what they should earn.

An Employee Compensation Committee, consisting of about 40 employees from the classroom, school and administrative levels, recommended the raises and requested a third-party market study to make sure employee salaries, especially those of teachers, are competitive in the market.

According to the final June 2022 compensation study, Clovis Unified’s benefit package puts CUSD in a less competitive position compared to other school districts.

But CUSD officials have long described a funding gap between how much most California schools receive from the state and how much Clovis schools receive.

Q: How would you respond to a Clovis teacher asking for better pay?

Bauer:I’ve had that conversation many times with Clovis teachers; it’s an issue.

As a member of the board, I have a fiduciary responsibility in overseeing the budget. And teacher pay and taking care of that classroom teacher is and should always be our No. 1 priority. Is there an opportunity and need to make sure our classroom teachers are paid competitively? Absolutely, because we have to continue to make sure we are recruiting and attracting the best of the best because our kids deserve the best of the best.

We have to make sure that our kids and our classrooms have exactly what they need. Pay is a part of it. We have to continue to press on that.

Burton:Teachers’ pay should and can be reassessed annually such as many jobs who get a cost-of-living increase annually adjusted. CUSD is quite “top heavy” with many administrators, and I would look at district-wide jobs and positions to see whether those jobs get COLI (Cost of Living Index) adjustments annually.

There must be equal compensation for teachers to keep quality teachers in our school district.

Der Manouel:First, I believe that teaching is a difficult job. Because of that, as a trustee, I would look for ways within the confines of the budget to maximize teacher pay and benefits where possible. The CUSD benefit plan is very competitive and salaries are close to comparable districts as well. Having said that, it should be looked at closely on an annual basis.

Olivier:My No. 1 priority is mind, body and spirit of students, and getting there is critical. We are hamstrung by the LCFF (Local Control Funding Formula), which is why we see districts across the state who get a lot more than their fair share of funding and not Clovis Unified.

We have to get there together, and the solution to that is funding. It’s a fiduciary issue that we have to take up as a board. The way to do that is to work with the state of California because if they don’t change the LCFF and ADA (Average Daily Attendance) for us, then we’re not going to have more money to pay our teachers.

Combs-Flores: I would support teachers asking for better pay. Clovis Unified is one of the lowest-paying districts when compared to districts of equal size. My first year teaching (in another district), I made more than an 8-year teacher in Clovis.

Mental health professionals’ demands

Clovis school psychologists are pushing the district to invest millions more in student mental health staffing and programs.

The district’s mental health professionals are asking for more staff, an “equitable and reasonable” caseload, a defined staff-student ratio and enough time for their increasing duties spurred by the growing need for services.

The group’s proposals equal an increase of about $3.3 million, which the mental health team says will help address decades-long issues, fill vacancies and the burden of under-staffing, and make mental health a priority for all students.

Q: School psychologists are pushing the district to increase staff, including a proposal of $3.3 million more in funding. If you’re on the board, how would you vote?

Bauer:Mental health is a real issue, but mental health is not a department. School psychologists are one of many people on that campus who contribute to a child’s mental health. When a child comes to school, he or she needs to know they are safe, they’re welcomed and they’re engaged in that classroom.

The No. 1 mental health issue is making sure that our kids come where they feel safe and where they belong. Here’s the other thing, it includes character development — teaching our kids that they are part of something larger than themselves and that it is their responsibility to contribute to a happy and safe learning environment in their classrooms, in their school and in their community.

It takes all of us.

Burton: Increasing school psychologists is a worthy idea to explore, but mostly, it would depend on the overall goals in place by the district for this increase. For example: is this for increasing an agenda of indoctrination (such as LGBTQ indoctrination), or is this for focusing on real student mental health support (such as coping with the past two years of COVID lockdowns, bullying issues, and general childhood social/emotional issues)? Also, who and how will these school psychologists be monitored?

Der Manouel:Mental health of our students is important. I have not seen the proposal, so it is difficult to say how I would vote. First, how did the group proposing this arrive at $3.3 million as the funding basis? Have needs been identified that require the staffing levels proposed? Are these positions perpetual and expected to grow as the district grows? How will it be paid for and prioritized in the context of the budget? Where do parents fit in as far as utilizing the potential new resource? There is no way to commit to a vote one way or another without significantly more information.

Olivier:I have to read the item, and I have to hear the administration’s report on it. But here’s what I do believe and agree with: We have to play catch up now after COVID. There are kids who have been left behind. There are kids who we don’t know are left behind in terms of learning, mental health or physical health, and we’re not going to know for years.

If the psychologists come to the administration and superintendent and say, “we need this funding. We see problems brewing with our kids,” then we’re obviously going to have to have a discussion about that.

Whoever gets in (as the new trustee) is going to have to clean up the COVID mess because there are still things that we don’t know. I’m confident that I can do that.

Combs-Flores: In light of the emotional state of many of our students, post-pandemic, I would support increasing the number of psychologists in the district. I think they need at least one on every campus and probably at least two on middle school and high school campuses.

Before voting though, I would do my research to see what kind of funding would be fiscally responsible before saying I outright support $3.3 million in more funding.

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