DUSD approves union agreement, staffing changes

Dinuba Unified School District Board of Trustees authorize operational items, including updated job descriptions and bargaining agreement with Teachers’ Association

Dinuba Unified School District Board of Trustees member Bev Keel-Worrell asks a question during a bond measure presentation at the board meeting Sept. 28, 2023. (Serena Bettis)
Dinuba Unified School District Board of Trustees member Bev Keel-Worrell asks a question during a bond measure presentation at the board meeting Sept. 28, 2023. (Serena Bettis)
Serena Bettis
Published January 24, 2024  • 
10:00 am

DINUBA – The Dinuba Unified School District (DUSD) Board of Trustees met for the first time this calendar year, where the board reviewed annual reports, discussed updates to ongoing district projects and made some critical decisions. 

At its meeting on Jan. 22, the board approved a tentative agreement with the Dinuba Teachers’ Association for the 2023-24 school year and heard reports from district personnel on their recent work. They also approved the hiring of a new chief academic officer for the 2024-25 school year and the opening of a temporary position for someone to coordinate next year’s move into the new high school.

While the DUSD meetings are typically held twice a month on Thursday evenings, the Monday meeting was scheduled to allow board members to attend the Tulare County Office of Education’s (TCOE) 2024 District Leadership Institute. 

Trustee Mary Villarreal said that board members attended workshops on the state’s budget and new education laws, which she said was at times disheartening because of the way new Education Code statutes can tie the hands of school boards to do what they feel is best for their district. 

“When you see all these new laws — and of course everything has an agenda behind it — some of it doesn’t really align to our values, so it’s really hard as we’re trying to do what’s best for our community and our kids,” Villarreal said. “It doesn’t mean it’s bad, it just gets a little more difficult when it’s no longer a focus of education but of just political ideology, and so that gets a little disheartening for me sometimes.”

Villarreal and Bev Keel-Worrell, who was newly elected as board chair for 2024 at the previous meeting, added that it was frustrating to hear about the state budget deficit and that districts could be facing a loss of funding even while it doesn’t appear that way at face value. 

Referring to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office and administration, Keel-Worrell said Villarreal’s comments were related to “how they jiggle all the figures to make it look like they’re giving you money when really on the back end they’re taking money away from school districts.” 

However, board members did bring up the significant grants that DUSD has won in the last few years for various opportunities and commended the district’s employees and grant writers for their work in ensuring the district takes advantage of additional funding opportunities. 

Teacher’s Association agreement

The board unanimously approved the tentative collective bargaining agreement between the district and the Dinuba Teachers’ Association with four elements highlighted by Superintendent Joe Hernandez. 

The agreement was for a one-year period between July 1, 2023, and June 30, 2024, and covered 328 employees with certificated salaries. Updates to the agreement included compensation, benefit and non-compensation related items. 

The district made a 7% increase to the certified salary schedule for the year, retroactive to July 1, 2023. The agreement also increased the amount the district contributes to an employee’s health and wellness premium by about $200 per employee. 

According to the agreement, the increase pays for the complete base plan of the health and wellness benefit by increasing the premium per employee from $1,288.95 per month to $1,304.15 per month. This applies to the period between Oct. 1, 2023, and Sept. 30, 2024.

Hernandez said that beginning in the 2024-25 school year, maximum class sizes for grades fourth through sixth will be reduced to 30 students. 

Also beginning next school year will be a new schedule for Washington Intermediate High School and Dinuba High School. The schools will no longer have an “early out” schedule once a week, but instead will have a “late start” on the same day every week, with classes beginning at 9 a.m. on Wednesdays.

“What that’ll mean is the teachers can now do their PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) at that time, and that helps out tremendously not only with the PLCs, but transportation,” Hernandez said.

Operational updates

State-mandated School Accountability Report Cards for the 2022-23 school year were approved with minimal discussion and will be available for the public to view on the district’s website.

The board approved a personnel order that included the hiring of Lisa Benslay, the current director of intervention and school supports, for the position of chief academic officer. Benslay has worked for the district since 1995.

According to the job description, the chief academic officer will work directly with the superintendent to “conceptualize, develop and implement programs and services to meet the learning needs of students in content areas and instructional programs.”

“I’m just looking forward to continuing all the good work that we’ve started in the district,” Benslay said. “We’re always searching for the best for our students, so I’m definitely looking forward to it.”

Hernandez said the district conducted the full hiring process and is looking forward to Benslay’s work in the new role, which she will begin on July 1. 

DUSD is also looking to hire a moving coordinator to facilitate the general logistics of moving from the current Dinuba High School to the new Dinuba High School, once its construction is finished near the end of the year. 

“It’s a monumental task, so we are proposing a moving coordinator to help assist with that move,” Marti Kochevar, assistant superintendent of human resources and communication, said. “There’s going to be a lot of communication, a lot of timelines, … working with management here, working with the high school principal (and) working with the software program, it’s quite extensive.”

This would be a temporary position that includes work over the summer; a teacher on special assignment could take on the role, Kochevar said.

On the topic of the new Dinuba High School, board members added to the ongoing discussion of their desire to have a pedestrian bridge constructed at the intersection of the roundabout the city of Dinuba is building at Kamm Avenue and Alta Avenue. The new school site borders a busy four-lane road, and the district is concerned about student safety when getting to school. 

Villarreal said the district has worked with the city on safety specifications for the roundabout, but the city has not been responsive to the district’s request to build a pedestrian bridge — something the district does not have the jurisdiction to do itself. 

District staff members are planning a trip north to Modesto to look at a pedestrian bridge the school district built over a roundabout at Enoch High School and speak with the school’s principal about the logistics behind it, Hernandez said. 

The next board meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Feb. 5. 

Serena Bettis
General Assignment Reporter