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PUEBLO, Colo. (AP) — A nationwide wave of teacher unrest spread to the southern Colorado city of Pueblo on Friday, as educators voted overwhelmingly to strike for better pay.

A walkout could not start at least until May while the state decides whether to intervene, The Pueblo Chieftain reported .

The vote came a little more than a week after the school board narrowly rejected a fact-finder’s recommendation that teachers and para-professionals should get cost-of-living raises and that the district should pay more of their health insurance premiums.

The fact-finder was called in when negotiations stalled.

The school board’s vote was 3-2. Board members in the majority said the district could not afford the pay and benefit increases.

The teachers voted 471-24 in favor of a strike. Voting began Thursday and ended Friday.

“The message this sends to the district is that teachers are tired of being disrespected, of having to fight for minuscule increases,” union president Suzanne Ethredge said. “It’s at the point where enough is enough.”

Ethredge said she hopes the impasse can be resolved without a strike but said teachers are prepared to walk out.

Teachers across Colorado and in other states have been demanding better pay and more funding for their schools.

Hundreds protested at the Colorado Capitol in Denver on Monday demanding better salaries. Educators in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Arizona have also staged strikes or high-profile protests in recent weeks.

In Pueblo, para-professionals also voted on a strike, but the results were not immediately announced.

The state Department of Labor and Employment has until the first week of May to decide whether to try to broker a resolution in Pueblo. If officials step in, a strike could be delayed for another 180 days, into the next school year.

The school district said in a written statement it was disappointed by the strike vote.

“Clearly we do not feel that it is in the best interests of our staff, community and most importantly, our students,” the statement said.

The district has about 16,000 students in 30 schools. The total number of teachers in the district wasn’t immediately available.


Information from: The Pueblo Chieftain,