Unionizing a Point of Contention at CUSD Board Meeting

Jason Roche, a member of the Association of Clovis Educators (ACE), speaking in front of the Clovis Unified School District (CUSD) Governing Board on Wednesday, April 7, 2021. (Courtesy CUSD YouTube)

A contentious battle between pro-union and union opposition was at the forefront of the Clovis Unified School District (CUSD) Governing Board meeting on Wednesday, April 7.

At the meeting, eight CUSD educators representing the newly launched organization Association of Clovis Educators (ACE) spoke in front of the board, voicing oversights they feel the district makes on their behalf and why they are pushing to unionize.

The group says educators’ voices are routinely left out of critical decisions regarding students and schools. They also feel that the district’s decision-making is broken and doesn’t value all students equally.

As of April 6, 73 educational professionals signed the petition calling for unionization.

Jason Roche, an educator for 22 years, says that hard times reveal cracks in an ignored system, and the pandemic has shed light on these fractures.

“Hard times reveal…those fractures that went ignored. Cracks that slowly but surely compromise its integrity, and a road to excellence,” Roche said. “Indeed, this year has revealed where we are strong, but also where we are weakened.”

Roche says that ACE is proposing a vision rooted in love for CUSD and its students, and the group will honor true collaboration currently eluding the district.

He hopes that the administrative partners will embrace the change, honor its legal obligation of neutrality and allow educators to choose to sign the petition, free of fear and intimidation.

Fear that Melissa Ferdinandsen, an educator for 29 years, says that she has already come face-to-face with at work.

“Just today, I was told by a colleague, ‘You better be careful. They’re out to get you,’” Ferdinandsen said. That was kind of scary.

Ferdinandsen says that, unfortunately, there is a pervasive underlying current of fear in CUSD regarding unions, and ACE hopes to alleviate the fear with facts.

She pleaded with educators to utilize their right to unionize, stating that administrators will not know who did or didn’t sign the petition because it is anonymous.

Adrian Cardenas, an educator for six years, says that ACE is also pushing for continued equality within the district for both the students and educators.

“How can a child of color be mentally ready to learn in a district that actively does nothing to advocate for them,” Cardenas said. “How can an educator of color feel comfortable working in a district that has had a well-documented history of marginalization?”

Cardenas refers to a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) independent survey on racial discrimination conducted 10 months ago, as having revealed the existence of unchecked racial discrimination and harassment within the district.

He says that avenues of communication for racial issues have deteriorated. He feels both educators and students can no longer rely on district leadership, faculty senate or the school board to keep them safe, referencing Board President Dr. Steven Fogg’s comments on inequality at the March 17 board meeting in the process.

Dr. Fogg later clarified the previous statement regarding inequalities, stating that he felt his comments were misrepresented.

He says the disparity would be classroom-based, meaning between full-time in-person classes and those that aren’t. And he is pushing for innovative educators to do so.

The inequality presented wouldn’t be an inequality of education, but inequality of face-to-face education, according to Dr. Fogg.

Dr. Fogg reiterates that the district doesn’t want kids educated unequally from each other.

However, Dr. Fogg still says that if they have to temporarily deal with inequality to move forward, that is what they should do.

Educators and parents opposing a union were also in attendance voicing their concerns as well.

Faculty Senate President Stacey Schiro — accompanied by the entire executive cabinet — shared a speech denouncing the notion that CUSD should be involved in a union, claiming that by not being influenced by outside organizations, it advocates more efficiently for CUSD teachers.

“Because we are not influenced by anybody other than our own colleagues. It is our sincere belief that the faculty senate advocates for CUSD teachers, much better than any potential union,” Schiro said. “It is, therefore, our view that the Faculty Senate should continue to be the sole representative body of the teachers of CUSD.”

Schiro said that the senate’s reasoning to be CUSD’s sole representative is because it understands stakeholders’ unique interests and what is best for its community.

Multiple parents feel that teachers are pushing for a union at an inopportune time. They feel unions are using students and schools reopening as bargaining chips to the disservice of the students.

Tiffany Schwebach, a mother of five students, feels that unions could be the reason why students haven’t returned to in-person instruction and students are caught in the middle of a chess game.

“Is it because there’s a teacher group threatening a union? People said all teachers would go back when they were vaccinated,” Schwebach said. “This is about money and power, and everyone knows this is not best for the kids…I feel like the kids are being used as pawns.”

Ashley Murray, a mother of four students, supports the job teachers are doing but feels strongly against unions. She says that the teachers have a job to do, and pro-union teachers are exploiting the opportunity of reopening for personal gain.

“Unionizing at this point is an obvious effort to stall full-time reopening, which is quite frankly shameful….Don’t you wonder why this time there’s such a strong push for it [unionizing],” Murray said. “You do realize that unions are using full-time return as a bargaining chip?”

Sarah Cornelison, a mother of two students and an 18-year union member, argues that she isn’t hearing examples of how dissatisfied teachers are being wronged or concrete ideas on how ACE benefits students’ education.

“Right now is the worst time to unionize…I’ve been a proud union member for 18 years. It has done wonders for my work,” Cornelison said. “However, we need not do this in this time of upheaval.”

Dr. Fogg addressed the topic of unionizing in his closing remarks, saying that before teachers choose to change their representation, allow him the opportunity to hear and address their concerns.

“Before we change the system, I would like our teachers to give me a chance as a board president. If there are concerns, come to me,” Fogg said. “You have to give me a chance. And if I fail at this, then we can put someone else sitting at this desk that will listen.”

Dr. Fogg believes that local control is best for the district and doesn’t want the teacher to have that control taken away.

“That’s my plea for tonight, and because it breaks my heart that any teacher feels that they’re not important to us. Because they are,” Fogg said.

Anthony De Leon is a journalist who started his career in 2017, covering sports for the Fresno City College Rampage, earning his Associate Degree in the process. He then moved on to Fresno State, working for The Collegian serving as Sports Editor, Managing Editor and Editor-in-Chief. He earned his Bachelor’s Degree in print journalism. In August, he will begin attending Reynold’s School of Journalism Master’s program at the University of Nevada, Reno.