Denver Teachers Go On Strike After Pay Discussions Fall Apart

Sergio Conner
February 12, 2019

According to school officials, representatives from the Denver Classroom Teachers Association walked out of the talks on Saturday, and won't return to the negotiation table until Tuesday despite a plea from Superintendent Susana Cordova to continue working to avoid a strike.

Denver Public Schools officials announced Sunday that all of the district's schools will remain open Monday.

Under the compensation system, teachers are given financial incentives to teach hard-to-staff subject areas and schools.

"Qualified DPS staff, including certified guest teachers and administrators with educator licenses, will be in schools providing instruction during the strike", the school district said.

The Denver Classroom Teachers Association is operating food banks to help families impacted by the strike.

Teachers began picketing Monday before the start of the school day after failing to reach a deal with administrators on pay. In districts like Denver and Los Angeles where many families are working-class, staying home to care for students who are out of school can quickly jeopardize families' savings and even employment.

Union leaders told reporters they were frustrated with failed talks over the weekend aimed at reaching a deal. After a sit-down on Friday, February 8, the union released a statement from Henry Roman, its president, that reads in part: "Teachers were stunned when DPS proposed hiking incentives instead of putting that new money into base pay where it could make the entire district more competitive".

"What happens is that teachers often leave in the middle of the year".

Striking teachers picketed outside of schools and marched through Denver's streets Monday as auto horns blared in support of the latest USA walkout amid a swell of educator activism in at least a half-dozen states over the a year ago.

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The union pushed for lower bonuses for high-poverty and high-priority schools to free up more money for overall teacher pay and criticized the district for spending too much money on administration. The district says the bonuses are key to boosting the academic performance of poor and minority students. The largest struggles were by teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona, initiated by the rank-and-file, not the unions.

Chicago's 2012 teacher strike, which like Denver's reflected resistance against a certain brand of education policy as much as a bid for improved compensation, lasted seven school days. That's about 1-2 percent of the budget for the school year if the strike lasts a week, the Colorado Sun reports. However, they also sought and won promises for smaller class sizes and adding more nurses and counselors.

In one school, students danced and chanted in the hallways as they walked out to demonstrate to support their teachers.

Teachers say they're fed up with uncertain income year to year, since DPS' pay system uses unpredictable bonuses to compensate for low base pay.

It's the latest action in a wave of teacher activism since last spring, when teachers walked off the job in West Virginia.

However, Polis said the state could decide to intervene - and suspend the strike for up to 180 days - if the walkout drags on.

In encouraging both sides to come to an agreement, Gov. Jared Polis has pointed out that this money will no longer be available to help pay teachers if it is spent on the strike.

Cordova says the district will review that plan for individual schools each day.

The state does not have the power to impose any deal on either side, but it can try to help the union and school district reach a deal and can require them to participate in a fact-finding process.

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