Add To Favorites

Clovis Unified school psychologist union pushing district to beef up pay — and hiring

The Fresno Bee - 2/7/2023

The Clovis Unified school board recently approved $17.3 million in raises and benefits for employees, but the district’s unionized psychologists will be missing out for the foreseeable future.

The district is still negotiating a contract with the psychologists and mental health professionals union, the Association of Clovis Educators. The mental health team has yet to receive the 7% pay bumps the board approved for employees in June because talks with the newly recognized union were in the early stages.

With no finalized contract in sight, the mental health team is still bargaining almost a year later about workload, hours and wages, said school psychologist Rachel Allen, who is on the bargaining team.

The union wants 12% raises and 12 new psychologist positions added to the district’s payroll with an estimated price tag of about $3.3 million.

Allen said the union’s goal is to ensure “that our workload is sustainable to serve the mental health needs of students.”

Hire more, pay more?

The union is requesting “comparable” pay with school psychologists at districts such as Fresno Unified as well as changes to the salary schedule.

But Clovis Unified countered the union’s proposal with an offer of 2% raises.

“As we start settling, there may be additional dollars that go towards salary schedule increases,” said Barry Jager, the district’s associate superintendent of human resources.

The district’s current budget includes the 7% salary increase previously approved by the board in June for all other employees. The union has not accepted that raise, Jager said.

The millions being added to employees’ pay schedules is the result an independent market study obtained by the district.

According to the market study, the base salary and total compensation for CUSD psychologists, specifically, is below that of 11 comparable school districts.

“We’re not just asking for more money,” Allen said. “We really are thinking about how to best serve the mental health of our students.”

Union leaders say the 12 additional school psychologists are needed to ensure schools are sufficiently staffed to address student mental health as well as provide academic, social-emotional and behavioral intervention.

Of psychologists’ job duties, their primary role and legal obligation is to serve students in special education classes by conducting evaluations for services, followed by the responsibility to serve all students’ social and emotional wellbeing and mental health.

Most of Allen’s day at Garfield Elementary is spent completing those assessments.

“All the mental health support and prevention that kids really need, I’m not able to provide at an elementary site,” she said.

But more psychologists can address that while meeting more student needs.

‘It’s hard to see kids suffering’

When staff, such as teachers, talk about the work of psychologists, it’s not the assessments they refer to, Allen discussed. It’s the way school psychologists meet student needs.

“They’re talking about how we come and support students,” she said. “That’s what they need from me. When parents call me requesting counseling for their child, it’s hard for me to say, ‘No, I can’t see your student,’ because I don’t have the time.

“It’s hard to see kids suffering. It takes an emotional toll on you to know you’re not meeting the needs of students.”

So far, the mental health staff and school district have had nearly two dozen bargaining sessions and will continue to meet until they agree on each aspect of the contract.

Neither side knows when the negotiations will end.

“We all want to know that because we’re living on lower salaries than our teachers and our colleagues,” Allen said. “Kids need support now. The time for solving these problems is now.”

Bargaining resumes Thursday.

Education Lab Newsletter

Get stories that matter on education issues critical to the advancement of San Joaquin Valley residents, with a focus on Fresno. Sign up, and join the conversation.

The Education Lab is a local journalism initiative that highlights education issues critical to the advancement of the San Joaquin Valley. It is funded by donors. Learn about The Bee’s Education Lab at its website.

©2023 The Fresno Bee. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.