Park County Teachers Strike Over Pay, Schools Closed


Park County schools are closed Monday as teachers strike over pay.

The South Park Education Association, or SPEA, came to an agreement with the Park County School District last week on all points except salary, union officials said.

"The reason why we're asking for a change in our compensation package is this year, [the district] lost 10 teachers," 4th-grade teacher Doug Freeman said. "That's almost 25 percent of our staff. If that continues, that's not going to be in the best interest of the students."

Talks broke down Thursday when the school district refused to discuss salary raises, according to Freeman. They did not resume over the weekend.

The union argues higher wages are the way to attract and retain quality teachers. 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.

“No educator wants a strike," said union president Taya Mastrobuono in a news release. "We want to be in school with our students. Resolving this retention crisis, though, has always been about our students and keeping school employees here who love them and are committed to this fantastic community.”

The union said Park County RE-2 never gave a counteroffer to their request of $6,000 raises for all staff. But according to the district, the school board already provided a 6.5 percent increase to the base salary for this school year and can't afford more.

Park County School District RE-2 is a small district based in Fairplay, Colorado. It serves around 500 students.

"To me, it feels like a complete left turn," said school board president Kim Bundgaard. "I mean, we were literally told what mattered to them was the professional agreement. We got to the last article, which was setting the effectiveness dates, and they derailed all the progress that had been made."

Bundgaard called the salary increase request from teachers "ludicrous" given the district's size and financial situation.

"The Board is disheartened that the Association is choosing to strike rather than to move forward with a positive working relationship with the District that includes favorable avenues for SPEA to handle the salary negotiations that it desires," Bundgaard said in a news release. "As the District moves through these uncharted waters of a strike, the Board will continue to keep the best interests of the students and all employees, as well as the financial well-being of the District, at the forefront."

She said staff is meeting Monday to plan for a continued strike.

More than 90 percent of SPEA members voted in September to indicate they'd be willing to strike.

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 negotiating sessions in August, the two sides agreed to a salary negotiation process for the 2020-2021 school year, but not on the salary increase.

Union members are picketing Monday in front of the Park County Schools Building.

Freeman said SPEA has arranged childcare with the Boys and Girls Club of South Park from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. where striking volunteers will help care for students.

It is unclear if the strike will continue Tuesday.