Hundreds of Lakeville educators wearing red assembled near the school district's office Tuesday night, carrying signs reading "Fair Pay = Teachers Stay" and "Worth Every Penny" and cheering as a band of students from both district high schools played upbeat songs.

The gathering, at the corner of County Road 50 and Kenrick Avenue, followed a decision made Tuesday morning: The Lakeville teachers union filed an intent to strike, setting the stage for the potential shutdown of one of the state's largest school districts.

Union officials said the earliest teachers can walk out is May 10, though district officials said that date is May 13. Late last week, 98% of the union's 762 members voted to authorize a strike.

"I love our teachers. They are amazing human beings and they deserve the world," Elaina Weiers, a parent with three children attending district schools, said as she stood on the corner amid honking cars and trucks.

Kari Dykhoff, a Lakeville South High School math teacher, carried a sign criticizing the Lakeville superintendent as she walked toward the crowds.

"We're just looking to attract and retain staff, and our current contract doesn't allow for that," Dykhoff said. "They're offering language [related to transferring teachers] that we voted down by 98 percent."

Many teachers, parents and residents also ventured inside district headquarters to speak during the open-comment period at the evening's school board meeting. Several speakers echoed the union's main sticking points in negotiations so far — teachers want to see wage increases and object to contract language allowing administrators to reassign up to 15 teachers annually to new teaching roles without their input.

"We're concerned that the district is still saying they have no money," said Johannah Surma, the union's lead negotiator and an ESL teacher at Oak Hills and Orchard Lake elementary schools. "Districts around us have figured this out."

The Legislature dedicated $33 million in new funding to Lakeville schools last session, Surma said, but teachers are being paid less than they were five years ago, adjusting for inflation.

Stephanie Kass, the Lakeville district's spokesperson, said in a statement: "It is important to reiterate that the district firmly believes a strike can be averted through collaboration and mutual agreement. It is our priority to reach an agreement that supports our students, teachers, staff and the long-term success of our school community."

The statement also advised families to "create contingency plans in the event of a strike" and said the school board would meet in a closed session at Tuesday night's meeting to further discuss negotiations.

The release said school closures, test schedules and fee-based programs such as child care and after-school programs could be affected by a strike, along with student meal services.

District leaders also said they may need to look into scheduling makeup days to ensure students don't fall behind state-mandated minimums for classroom hours.

District and union negotiators came to a tentative agreement in February that would have increased teacher salaries by 1% this school year and 5% for the 2024-25 academic year. The contract would have also raised pay for prep time and included the transfer language educators say would "overwrite the collaborative process the district has used for decades" that allows teachers to weigh in on their reassignment.

Teachers rejected that contract. If they picket in May, union officials say, it would be the first teachers strike in the Lakeville district, which enrolls just over 12,000 students.

"We're pretty astounded that we're at this point," Surma said.

A bargaining session is scheduled for May 6. Surma said union officials are hoping the two sides could meet sooner than that.