When teachers within Park County School District RE-2 voted in landslide fashion to authorize a strike if ongoing salary negotiations with the district continued to stall, they also requested clearance to strike from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment at that time.

That request, submitted in September, was officially granted by the CDLE during the latter part of last week.

As of Oct. 1, no agreement had been reached in the ongoing dispute. Furthermore, it is becoming apparent that negotiations entail considerably more than the across-the-board salary increase of about $4,000 for all district employees that teachers are requesting.

While raises represent the crux of the teachers’ demands, a number of related issues add to the complexity of the stalemate. In fact, according to South Park Education Association president, Taya Mastrobuono, the approval of those requested raises alone likely would not provide a satisfactory resolution for teachers in and of itself.

Additionally, according to Mastrobuono, teachers could be persuaded that raises are not sustainable if the district could demonstrate as much during the course of ongoing negotiations.

The larger problem, she says, is that the district has not been transparent about budgetary resources or limitations, and has not been forthcoming with details to adequately justify their refusal to approve requested raises for its employees.

“In the media, it sort of sounds like this is all about raises,” Mastrobuono said. “But it is really about transparency and the district’s unwillingness to come to the table and make themselves accessible to at least discuss the issues openly, with all interested parties. The last public meetings where negotiations took place with everyone represented in the proceedings was actually in February. That is a huge point of frustration with the teachers right now.

“If the district demonstrated to us that it actually could not afford to approve raises, then we would be open to discussing alternatives. But we want to have those discussions, and we want to see some movement in this process. We have requested to meet with the district and we have proposed October fourth, fifth or sixth as possible options, but so far they have declined to commit to any of those dates.”

Almost equally as important as salary increases for employees, according to teachers, is that their current contract does not allow for bargaining over wages. Instead, the current contract only allows for a “meet-and-confer” process.

“We want a true, equal voice at the table instead of closed-door meetings with supervisors,” Mastrobuono said. “We are just asking for an open and transparent forum in which to have these types of discussions.”

On a positive note, Mastrobuono says School Board President Kim Bundgaard has been in communication with her about continued negotiations, and that the two of them are both attempting get all necessary parties aligned  for fruitful meetings in the very near future.

“I have appreciated the school board president making herself accessible to have these discussions, and those discussions have been very positive,” Mastrobuono said. “But of course, the ultimate goal is to have all parties in the same room so that constructive negotiations can take place. I trust that the school board president is making every effort to arrange for that on her end.”

Mastrobuono concluded by saying that the bottom line is providing the best and most stable possible learning environment for students, and that attracting and retaining quality teachers is paramount to achieving that goal.

The district, meanwhile, stands firm in its contention that accumulated capital for future operating expenses should not be confused with reserve funds. On numerous occasions, through prepared public statements and interviews with various media outlets, the district has stated that to approve raises as requested by its teachers is simply not a financially feasible option.

That position was repeated by the district in a press release appearing in the Sept. 13 edition of The Flume. “The district does not believe an additional raise, beyond what has already been provided for the 2019-2020 school year, is financially feasible or fiscally responsible.”

In a previous statement, dated Aug. 28, the district argued that teachers were misrepresenting the district’s financial situation. “The district understands that the SPEA desires a larger raise than what was offered and agreed to by teachers when they signed their contracts for the 2019-20 school year. However, the district’s funds are limited.

“Contrary to the SPEA’s representations, the district is not sitting on vast cash overages. The district continues to believe that the additional raise demanded by SPEA is not sustainable in light of the district’s current funding and tax revenues.”

Furthermore, the district has already offered a six percent raise to its educators, amounting to an increase of about $2,000 per year for most teachers.

“The district has already provided an across-the-board raise for its teachers,” the district stated in a public statement dated Sept. 6. “The district is not sitting on large stockpiles of cash, as SPEA has suggested. The district is concerned that the additional raise demanded by SPEA will have a negative impact on the district’s finances and fiscal stability.”

The $4,000 annual salary increase the teachers are requesting is in addition to the previous salary increase of six percent.

As was stated in a Denver Post article dated Sept. 27, according to the Colorado Department of Education, average teacher pay in the PCSD RE-2 is just over $41,000. The state average is $56,800, about 28 percent more than what PCSD RE-2 teachers are currently earning.

There are about 40 teachers in the district, and about 80 employees district-wide. A $6,000 increase in annual salaries for every employee would require at least an additional $480,000 from the district’s annual budget.

District press release

Just before The Flume went to press, the district sent a press release regarding progress made with the teachers. This is the press release verbatim:

“Fairplay, Colo. –The Park County School District RE-2 and the South Park Education Association made progress last week with dialogue between the presidents of the respective organizations.

“Following an in-person meeting, there were additional communications regarding the proposed New Professional Agreement draft that the district had provided to the association Sept. 10.

“The association communicated that it met several times to discuss the district’s proposal, which is based upon the high-level agreements reached during the mediation sessions in August. The district anticipates that SPEA will provide its comments and suggested changes to the proposal later today. Once the association’s feedback is received, the district will immediately review it.

“Representatives of the parties may then be able to meet in person to discuss and finalize the document together.

“Both the district and SPEA are attempting to move forward to reach an agreement so that the association could ratify a New Professional Agreement prior to the Board of Education meeting Oct. 17, at which time the board could then approve it. Both parties have a goal of having a new agreement in place for approval at that meeting.”

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