FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Nearly 4,000 teachers with the Fresno Teachers Association (FTA) may soon strike, as they try to reach contract agreements with the Fresno Unified School District.
Members of the Fresno Teachers Association packed the Paul Paul Theatre at the Fresno Fairgrounds Wednesday night ahead of the vote.
It was a sea of blue shirts and signs reading 'Fresno teachers ready to strike' as the crowd of 3,400 showed their support for what appeared to be an imminent strike.
"After a year of really being dismissive of those needs from the district, we are closer now to a strike than we've been in the last 45 years," said FTA President Manuel Bonilla.
Bonilla says there has been some movement from the district, but they still need more to be done.
"Class size reduction, caseload reduction, a salary that keeps up with inflation, and protecting our health care, so that way our educators and all employees across the district don't have to do a healthcare fund cut," said Bonilla.
He says they want to cap class sizes to meet students' needs and offer more competitive pay.
"Their salary offer keeps us below average, and they're making us pay for it, via a cut to our health fund. Which means in a year or so, it's back to the bottom. We're not going to be able to recruit or retain quality educators that way," said Bonilla.
But the district says last week's proposal works to meet some of those needs.
"We put out an updated package proposal on Friday, which included a lot of movement on our part from our first package proposal in areas of salary, benefits, and class size reduction," said Nikki Henry with the Fresno Unified School District.
FUSD added that they offered an overall 19% salary increase over the course of the contract, "Bridge to Medicare" healthcare coverage upon retirement pending years of service and age, and stipends for teachers if they have a class over a certain size.
"We want to work collaboratively with FTA on how we lower class size ratios moving forward, this is a multi-year effort that we need to work together on to really be creative to figure out the spacing issues, the salary issues," said Henry.
She says FTA has only sent one proposal and has not formally responded to Friday's offer.
The response to the offer came on stage Wednesday night when Bonilla tore up the proposal, causing cheers to erupt from the crowd.
Should I sign it or should I rip it up?' asked Bonilla.
"Rip it!" the crowd responded.
"That's what I thought," replied Bonilla.
Henry says if a strike takes place, the district is prepared with 2,100 substitute teachers ready to go.
"Yes, it's going to be different, school is not the same when you don't have your classroom teacher in front of you," said Henry. "But we are not willing to close our schools down, over adult issues, when our kids cannot afford to lose instructional time," said Henry.
Despite the looming vote, both sides say they are willing to come to the table to reach a solution.
"We are willing to meet at any time between now and a potential commencement of a work stoppage so that way we can get this deal done," said Bonilla.
"We're really hopeful that FTA will give us a proposal back, we can continue negotiating and avoid this strike altogether," said Henry.
The rally at the fairgrounds closed with ballots being sent out via email and many teachers casting their votes before leaving.
If teachers vote to authorize a strike, it will not happen the next day, everyone will be notified of when that date will be.
More information is expected to come out with the tally on Monday.