Teachers in the Pueblo (Colo.) district stayed out of their classrooms on Monday as they began the first teachers’ strike in Colorado in nearly a quarter-century,
The Denver Post reports that the teachers are seeking a 2 percent pay increase and better benefits from Pueblo City Schools District 60.
Teachers carried signs and chanted: “Pueblo schools are under attack. What do we do? Stand up. Fight back,” and “Get up, get down, Pueblo is a union town!”
Meanwhile, school parking lots sat mostly empty. The district closed all schools Monday. The district sent out a letter apologizing to families, saying it was “disappointed” in the situation.
The tension between the union and district has been growing for years.
The district’s teachers were paid an average of $47,617 during the 2017-18 school year, according to the Colorado Department of Education. The average Colorado teacher was paid $52,728. The National Education Association says the average pay nationwide in 2017 was $59,660.
An outside fact-finder recommended that teachers and paraprofessionals get the 2 percent cost-of-living bump. But district officials voted against the pay increase.
The state teachers’ union says Colorado underfunds its schools by $822 million annually and that the Pueblo district has been shorted $150 million from the state over the past eight years.
District 60 expects to be in a better position next year when it switches to a four-day school week and receives additional funding from the state. But it still won’t have a giant financial cushion, according to a letter from Superintendent Charlotte Macaluso.
“As our enrollment continues to decline, the board will have to make more difficult decisions about funding, including potential reductions in workforce and school closures,” she wrote.
The district last week gave the union two offers. Both were rejected.
The district's last offer would have given teachers a one-time stipend equal to 2 percent of their salary, essentially $1,000 each. A 2.25 percent cost-of-living raise and an additional $50 per month toward health insurance would start in September.
But the union is looking for a retroactive 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment for the 2017-18 school year.
The Pueblo district has 30 schools serving roughly 16,000 students. There were 992 teachers in the 2017-18 school year, according to the state education department. The district has an 18 percent teacher turnover rate.
The last teacher strike in Colorado occurred in 1994, when Denver teachers walked off the job for five days.
Pueblo teachers were close to striking in 1998, but state regulators mediated a resolution. The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment last week declined to intervene in the current dispute.