An ongoing salary dispute between Park County School District RE-2 and its educators reached a boiling point over the last weekend and resulted in a teachers strike that began this past Monday morning.
Regular classes, as well as all after-school activities, were canceled, according to a public statement issued by the district in a release dated Oct. 13:
“As of this evening, the district has determined to cancel classes tomorrow and has communicated this to parents. No buses will run and all athletics and extra-curricular activities have also been canceled. Other school operations for staff will remain consistent with a regular workday.”
The representing body for the teachers, the South Park Education Association, made its stance clear as well in a statement also released Oct. 13.
“SPEA members want to enter into a new professional agreement with the district rooted in mutual trust and respect, and centered on the welfare of Park County students,” said SPEA President Taya Mastrobuono.
“The District can send a powerful signal that it too wants to stop the revolving door of educators in and out of our schools by quickly committing a portion of the considerable funds it holds in reserve into deserved educator compensation for this current school year.”
The district has remained firm in its contention through out the dispute that accumulated capital for future operating expenses should not be confused with reserve funds, and that to approve raises as requested by its teachers is simply not a financially feasible option.
The teachers, meanwhile, insist that the district has reserve funds of almost $4 million, and that their requested raises are in fact feasible.
There are currently about 40 teachers in the district, and about 80 employees district-wide. The teachers are requesting raises of $6,000 for every district employee, which would require an additional $480,000 from the district’s annual budget.
The district approved a $2000 raise this past May, but the teachers are looking for another $4000 in raises. According to the district, the May raise would offer a starting teacher’s salary of $33,000 with a top salary of $67,000.
According to a database compiled by Douglas Bissonette, the superintendent of Elizabeth School District, rural districts average teachers pay, was $39,592.
Teachers are also demanding that bargaining processes for educators’ earnings be restructured.
SPEA members were picketing throughout the day Monday at the South Park Schools Building.
(Current press releases from both SPEA and the district can be viewed in their entirety on The Flume Facebook pages at www.facebook.com/theflume.)
As of Tuesday...
South Park School offices were abuzz with activity inside and out Tuesday morning in Fairplay.
Outside, teachers were conducting a spirited demonstration complete with chants over a loudspeaker near the building’s west entrance.
Inside, Superintendent Joe Torrez could be seen scampering from meeting to meeting, from one administrative office to the next.
Outside, Doug Freeman, a fourth-grade teacher and a part of the negotiations team for the teachers, called the demonstration to a brief halt to make an announcement.
“We are going to deliver a hand-written letter to the superintendent, asking him to show some leadership and speak with us,” Freeman said. “We have a lot of angry parents, especially parents of student-athletes,” Freeman announced.
The crowd of teachers applauded and shouted words of encouragement to Freeman and SPEA Vice President Kiersten Macreery as they approached the front door of the school.
The duo returned moments later, again, to an enthusiastic welcome from the teachers.
“We did see Mr. Torrez briefly, but he refused to speak with both of us. He said he would meet with one of us, but not both of us. Neither of us felt comfortable with that. This is a public issue, a public school and the public deserves to know what is going on here. We have had enough one-on-one meetings behind closed doors.”
With that news, the teachers resumed picketing, creating more signs and discussing strategy amongst themselves.
The Flume media was invited into the administrative offices, but Torrez was not immediately available to speak on the record.
“I never thought it would come to this,” said Debbie Davis, a creative arts teacher at Edith Teter Elementary School. “None of us want to be anywhere but in the classroom right now, so it’s just very unfortunate, especially for the kids.”
Davis is also the head high school volleyball coach, and she said many parents of student-athletes are upset that after-school activities have been cancelled during the strike.
The announcement that after-school activities would be cancelled came in a public statement via the district dated Oct. 13.
“It is unfortunate that after-school activities have been unnecessarily cancelled,” Davis said. “The buses are not striking, and it just impacts our kids negatively for them not to still be able to participate in sports and other after school-activities.”
Davis added that her volleyball team was missing its second consecutive day of practice, with a game looming Thursday.
Football, softball and cross country running are also among the fall sports that could be impacted by the district’s current circumstances.
As of 1 p.m. Tuesday, the two sides were still at an impasse regarding mutually agreeable meeting arrangements.