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Amid Teacher Salary Negotiations, Madera Unified Struggles With Overcrowding, Limited Resources

Laura Tsutsui
Valley Public Radio
Many schools within Madera Unified are dealing with more students than they were meant to handle, which the district says creates logistical problems during lunch time, and limited classrooms.

Representatives from Madera Unified School District, just north of Fresno, met on Monday to discuss a new offer regarding salaries and health benefits. If needs aren’t met, the teachers' union has said it could be one step closer to a strike, following in the footsteps of Los Angeles and Oakland educators.

But administrators say they’re trying to accommodate more than just teacher salaries and benefits. For example, at James Madison Elementary School, some kids start their lunch at 10:30 in the morning.

“This is the first shift of students, that comes to the cafeteria and there’s multiple shifts all the way until about 1 o’clock,” says Madera Unified Superintendent Todd Lile. He says it’s not ideal, but serving students that early is the only way to make sure they’re all fed by the afternoon.  This is a logistical problem schools around the district are trying to address.

James Madison is one of Madera’s oldest schools, built in 1953 for 400 students. Today, it serves over 600. The staff doesn’t have a conference room. The school converted that space into a library.

“There really isn't a binary choice,” says Lile. “You can't really decide whether or not you'll build facilities for little kids to have a high quality educational experience, or teacher salaries and support staff salaries. We have to find a way in California to get to both.”

Lile says what Madera Unified needs is more funding from the state. It does get money to assist low-income, English learning, and foster care students, but Lile says it’s not enough.

Negotiations are still in a fact-finding phase, which has to end before the union can vote to strike. In a recent straw poll, however, union members indicated that they’re willing to do so to get their demands met.

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