ACE working to organize CUSD’s educators

Clovis Unified School District purchased and converted the former ITT Tech building into a professional development and health center for its employees and retirees. Pictured here is the health center’s “welcoming area.” (Daniel Leon/Clovis Roundup)

by Mary Gadberry,

January 10, 2024 – Clovis Unified School District’s Faculty Senate was originally developed as an employee representation group in 1977, with the full support and assistance of founding superintendent Dr. Floyd Buchanan, as the district did not, and still does not, have a teacher’s union.

The Faculty Senate is made up of teachers who are supposed to represent the interests of their fellow educators.

However, there are findings that the members of the Faculty Senate received annual stipends, paid time off, and special access to district technology, among other benefits not available to other employee groups.

With nearly 43,000 students and 6,400 employees, Clovis Unified is the largest school district in California without a teacher’s union. In “Doc’s Charge,” an inspirational message to district employees written by Dr. Buchanan, it states that, “The professionals who work in our district are proud that we do not have collective bargaining.”

The Association for Clovis Educators (ACE) has been working, with the backing of the California Teachers Association, since 2020 to organize the district’s educators.

Although the teachers seem to be resistant, ACE has managed to unionize psychologists and mental health service providers, with the first-ever union contract negotiated within the district signed in June of 2023.

According to Kristin Heimerdinger, a teacher at Buchanan High School and ACE spokesperson, the clear difference between the Faculty Senate and a union is that the Faculty Senate does not bargain or negotiate with the district for teachers’ rights or benefits as a teachers’ union would do.

In 1984, the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) found Clovis Unified and the Faculty Senate violating the Education Employment Relations Act (EERA). ACE brought suit recently claiming that Clovis Unified had not ceased their illegal activities, as ordered in the earlier decision.

On December 7, 2023, PERB ruled that both Clovis Unified and the Faculty Senate were breaking the law since Faculty Senate members received many benefits not provided to other educator groups, and that they deliberately discouraged employees from unionizing.

Kelly Avants, Clovis Unified School District’s spokesperson, says that the district had already stopped offering most of the additional benefits to Faculty Senate members over the last few years. A recent search for “Faculty Senate” on the main Clovis Unified School District website shows no results.

On December 20, the Faculty Senate executive board released a statement to district employees, complying with the PERB ruling, and included the disclaimer, “without prejudice and without admission of any wrongdoing.” ACE feels the Faculty Senate should be held accountable for their actions over the past forty-plus years, and that district employees will still be discouraged from unionizing if the Faculty Senate is allowed to continue to exist.

ACE also says that the PERB decision does not go far enough, believing there should also have been an order for the Faculty Senate to dissolve. They announced their appeal on December 27, 2023.

ACE and Clovis Unified are currently awaiting the final decision on ACE’s appeal, but have not yet been provided a time frame.