Contract negotiations stalled between Denver Public Schools (DPS) and the Denver Classroom Teacher’s Association (DCTA), a major union that represents almost 6,000 of Denver's educators, when DPS announced that it will ask a federal third-party mediator to take over the bargaining process.
“We’ve exchanged proposals on major issues, but we are not making progress in getting to agreement on those issues,” said lead DPS negotiator Michelle Berge in a written statement. “Ultimately, we — and our teachers — want what’s best for kids. A mediator can help both sides reach a fair contract that supports our teachers and creates the best chance of success for our students.”
The news came as a shock to the DCTA, according to deputy executive director Corey Kern, who says that the months of negotiations — over issues like teacher pay, classroom standards and a temporary ban on charter schools — had been fairly successful. “We were completely blindsided by it,” says Kern.
DPS has chosen Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services (FMCS), a federal agency that works to resolve labor disputes, to oversee the negotiations. Every three years, DPS and DCTA must come to an agreement on teacher compensation, benefits and rights, like the ability to discuss controversial topics in the classroom without fear of retaliation from a school board or leadership.
The current contract must be renegotiated or extended before its expiration on August 31 — or the school district could face a teachers’ strike when the school year begins on August 14.
The FMCS will hold hearings in July and August with representatives of the union and DPS. But Kern questions the usefulness of the FMCS, and affirms that DCTA will do what it must to ensure that teachers get the contract they deserve.
“A strike is definitely on the table at this point,” he says. “That is definitely a possibility.”
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Kern says that about half of the contract’s 35 articles were already agreed upon in over forty hours of hearings — even though some of this year’s demands are relatively strong.
One of the sticking points is a raise from the starting teachers’ salary of about $40,000 up to $50,000, which Kern says is vital to DCTA’s mission of “community schools,” wherein teachers and students and their parents can all live in the same neighborhood. A report published in April by Apartment List found that Denver is one of the least affordable cities for teachers in the country.
Other important points for the DCTA include a temporary ban on charter schools, which DPS is increasingly approving, and a requirement that every school have a nurse and a social worker on site.