Denver is the Latest Education Battleground as Teacher Strike Looms
The Denver teachers union rejected another proposal from the metropolitan school district during the latest negotiation.
With one of the lowest teacher salaries in the nation, 93 percent of Colorado teachers in the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA) voted to strike on Jan. 22, after 14 months of debate and negotiation between the union and district ended without resolve.
Why are Denver Teachers Striking?
At the center of the dispute is the contract that details the annual budget allotted to teachers in the district and whether to distribute the salary increases through base pay or bonuses.
The district has proposed a system of bonuses and incentives awarded to teachers whose students receive high test scores or who work at high-poverty schools. The bonuses, according to the district, would help ensure teacher retention in the schools that suffer the most from turn-over.
Meanwhile, the DCTA argues that the educator compensation portion of the district’s budget should be $8.5 million higher and should reach the teachers more evenly through increases in their base salary. Educators have voiced protest against the unpredictability of the bonuses proposed to reach teachers through the district’s pay system, ProComp, and argue that a salary increase would be better for their long-term earning potential.
Following the union’s vote to strike on Jan. 22, district representatives formally requested intervention from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. While Gov. Jared Polis considered this intervention, the teachers can’t legally strike.
The union responded by requesting that the state labor officials remain uninvolved in the decision-making process.
“While the monetary issue remains unresolved, the philosophical difference behind the salary schedules is preventing the parties, as it has for many months, from reaching agreement on a new compensation scheme,” DCTA wrote in its petition to the courts.
While Gov. Polis could not impose any decision upon the budget under review, he could demand mediation by a third-party group. After a conference call between representatives of the three parties on Jan. 29, the district accepted a meeting date proposed by the union to restart negotiations.
“We are willing to come to the table in a good faith effort to get a deal done,” Union Executive Director Pam Shamburg said.
But less than two hours into Jan. 31 meeting union representatives stood up and left the building, rejecting the new compromise the district proposed, which fell several million dollars short of their demands.
“They didn’t bring a proposal tonight,” lead union negotiator Rob Gould told the crowd gathered to watch. “They brought a small IOU.”
Superintendent Susana Cordova presented an additional $3 million to be distributed into educator compensation, along with a two-year commitment for increases adjusted to the cost-of-living in the booming city of Denver. Altogether, the district offered an additional $50 million over the next three years.
“The offer you have brought today is an example of your inability to listen to our educators,” Gould told Cordova’s district during negotiations. “From this day forward, you will have no choice but to listen.”
There were more than 100 gathered in attendance, according to reports from education news organization Chalkbeat, and the majority held signs that supported the teachers’ demands for higher pay. Many wore red, the shade that has colored education-related protests among classroom teachers for much of the past year as the slogan #RedForEd popularized.
There are roughly 5,600 teachers working for Denver Public Schools, the largest district in the state. In Colorado teachers made an average of $46,155 in 2016, according to the National Education Association. This placed them at 46th in the nation for teacher wages, behind the state of Arizona at 43.
Labor Movement, Teacher Strikes Spread Across the Country
Teachers in Arizona held a monumental strike last May when the entire state participated in walking out for a five-day duration. They negotiated a 19 percent pay increase, which translates to roughly $300 million in just one year.
— Matt Rodewald FOX 10 (@Matt_Fox10) April 26, 2018
West Virginia and Oklahoma also drew national media attention for their teacher strikes last spring, and it seems that the labor protests are gaining momentum. In the first month of 2019 there have already been two teacher union strikes in the nation.
In the Los Angeles public schools, the second-largest district in the nation, a six-day strike brokered the increase of support staff and fund the thousands of teachers. The agreement reached on Jan. 22 between the Los Angeles district and teachers union included a 6 percent salary increase.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, celebrated the negotiation reached in Los Angeles by crossing the nation to support a single-day strike in Virginia, where teachers marched on the Capitol Jan. 28. Weingarten and García collectively represent nearly 5 million educators and have been present for many of the confrontations between districts and their teachers in the past year.
“What we’re seeing in the last year of strikes and walkouts is a labor movement that is learning how to become a movement again,” said Randi Weingarten Jan. 31, 2019 #UnionStronghttps://t.co/uJ4AV09MTm.
DCTA has not announced its plans for its next steps, and Governor Polis has until Feb. 11 to announce whether the state will officially intervene.
According to Chalkbeat, Denver Public Schools are preparing a precautionary substitute teacher pool in the case of teacher walkouts in future weeks.