Teachers in Park County have authorized a strike.
More than 90 percent of South Park Education Association members voted Wednesday to indicate they'd be willing to strike. The strike would take effect if the Park County School District doesn't return to the negotiating table with an acceptable salary offer, according to union officials.
The union wants $6,000 raises for all teachers and support staff.
"Our membership still wants to talk," said Doug Freeman, a fourth-grade teacher at the Edith Teter Elementary School. "We realize that [a strike] not in the best interest of students and, as teachers, we don't want to leave the classroom. But we do realize that, in order for the district to succeed longterm, we need to have educators and staff members here that are high-quality and that will stay."
It is common in the district for teachers to leave after one year because of the rising cost of living in the area, Freeman said.
"We wouldn't want to put the district in financial turmoil," Freeman said. "That's not good for us either. Our reasoning [is, we need] a salary that will attract and retain employees that the students deserve."
Park County School District RE-2 is a small district based in Fairplay, Colorado. It serves around 500 students.
The negotiation process started in 2018. At a March bargaining session, the union decided not to ratify the contract offered by the district because it did not allow for staff to negotiate their salaries, Freeman said. During eight and 10 hour negotiating sessions in August, the two sides agreed on most points, including a salary negotiation process for the 2020-2021 school year, but not on the salary increase.
Freeman said the union presented their request for raises and the district did not provide a counteroffer by the union deadline of Aug. 28.
The Park County School District already instituted a 6.5 percent increase to the base salary for this school year, district officials said in an emailed statement. Colorado law requires school districts to set budget and salary schedules by June 30 of each year, the district said.
"Since providing this raise, the South Park Education Association has sought additional compensation to these raises," the district said in the statement. "Following the Association’s requests, the district has again reviewed its financials, along with its commitments to operate a fiscally sustainable budget while providing raises for teachers and all district employees. These difficult financial decisions are made so the district can fulfill its responsibilities for its students and employees."
The union asked the Park County School District to return to the bargaining table on Friday, Sept. 6 but the district has not agreed, officials said.
“A strike is not inevitable," said SPEA President Taya Mastrobuono in a news release Wednesday. "We took a strike vote today because we are serious about quickly resolving this urgent need to hold on to caring, dedicated school employees who love to educate our students daily and who believe in this community. If the District is equally serious about resolving this crisis for our community, they will meet with us at a bargaining table before seeing us on a picket line.”