Thursday night’s regularly scheduled monthly meeting of the Park County RE-2 School Board was anything but regular, as more than 100 citizens filed in to make their voices heard regarding the district-wide teachers’ strike that began Oct. 14.
The open meeting was originally scheduled to occur at the District Offices at 6:30 p.m. in a room with a seating capacity of 50 people. The board announced that only 45 visitors would be allowed to attend the meeting, minus five police and fire personnel whose presence at the meeting was required.
That decision, however, was immediately challenged by the vocal crowd of visitors, many of whom wished to speak during the public comment portion of the meeting. It was determined that the meeting would be delayed until 7 p.m., and the proceedings were relocated to the multi-purpose room at nearby South Park High School.
Prior to the meeting, Park County Sheriff Tom McGraw took the floor and stated in no uncertain terms that order would be maintained at all times throughout the course of the evening.
“We have children present here,” McGraw said. “Let’s show them how adults behave.”
While bringing the meeting to order, Board President Kim Bundgaard’s voice broke with emotion while reading the district’s mission statement.
Following the Pledge of Allegiance, Bundgaard opened the meeting with a personal statement announcing her resignation from the board effective Nov. 21. She further stated that she would be out of the country and would not be available to continue in her capacity as president in the coming months.
Bungaard’s announcement prompted a brief period of silence throughout the room, but that silence soon gave way to passionate public comments from a diverse range of speakers. A total of 19 people approached the podium, but none held the attention of those in attendance any more effectively than the first speaker, student council president and SPHS senior, John Quesedo.
“The students here feel unsupported, and we feel like we have been abandoned,” Queseda said, while fighting back tears. “It is heartbreaking, and both the school board, the teachers and a good portion of the community are all to blame for this. I just want to ask that the school board and teachers work together, and work together for us. Prove to us that you care about us. Prove to us that you truly support us. It would be a great change for the students at this school if you could do that.”
Every student and teacher who spoke before the board commented that it was their strong desire to resume their regular schedules, and to get back school as soon as possible. In many cases, they stated that if the board members did not want to negotiate, then they should step aside and vacate their positions for board members who would.
A fifth-grader name Kylie succinctly stated her own case as to why the strike needed to end as soon as possible.
“I love my teachers,” she said. “I have amazing teachers. I have dyslexia, and I have been trying really hard this semester and felt really good about my work. Not going to classes this week has been devastating to me. So please, I just want to get back to school.”
Many of the speakers thanked the board for their efforts, and all of the speakers used respectful, though sometimes frustrated tones. In some cases, messages were delivered sharply and directly.
“As part of my job, I recently had to evict two teachers from public lands where they were sleeping every night because they could not afford a place to live,” said a U.S. Forest Service employee. “This strike needs to end, and I am disappointed with our leadership, which needs to be present and engaged. The board is always waiting to see what their attorney says. I didn’t elect an attorney. I elected you guys.”
Superintendent Joe Torrez did not escape the ire of the public, either.
“We have serial resignations among board members,” said a teacher to Torrez. “Teachers are striking, and this school is failing. Just out of curiosity, I recently looked up ‘superintendent.’ It said: ‘A school superintendent oversees the daily operations and the long-range planning of a school district. Serving as the point person for all district matters, the role of a superintendent is to supervise school principals and district staff, work with school board members and to manage fiscal operations.’”
Fairplay mayor Frank Just stepped to the podium, first stating that he came to the meeting, not as the mayor, but as a citizen and friend to all parties involved.
“I see things happening in our community, and I wonder what the kids are thinking,” Just said. “The place for kids is not between fighting adults. Both sides leave a lot to be desired in relationship to the advancement of our children. I am not preaching, but I hope we all stop and think about what their input will be, and how they are working toward the resolution of this problem.”