By Erica Meltzer, Chalkbeat Colorado
Teachers in the Park County district in Colorado’s high country are poised to strike after months of unresolved salary disputes with the district — but no date as been set as both sides hope last-minute talks will yield common ground.
Teachers in this small district in the high valley of South Park voted overwhelmingly last month to authorize a strike. This week they received clearance from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment to do so. The district and the teachers have agreed to meet to try to reach a deal before teachers actually walk off the job, but as of Friday, the two sides have not been able to find a date.
“We want to avoid a strike. We understand that it might be necessary,” said Doug Freeman, a fourth-grade teacher and a member of the union mediation team. “The goal is for us is to have an open and transparent dialogue with them so we can avoid a strike.”
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A Park County teacher strike is looming even though the school board in May approved raises for this school year that average 6.5%. Not all teachers saw their pay go up by that much, and educators insist the district can afford more. For their part, board members say increasing salaries would put the district on shaky financial ground. Teachers have also been pushing for a new contract that gives them more say in salary decisions. The last contract did not allow for collective bargaining over salaries. This could be an area for negotiation.
“I’m encouraged that we can speak directly, and our initial conversation was that we want something to work,” said school board President Kim Bundgaard. “The professional agreement and them having a voice was a priority for them. We have a draft, and we hope we can come to a conclusion.”