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Bargaining Negotiations Fail; Denver Teachers' Union Will Take Strike Vote

The last day of negotiations between the teachers' union and Denver Public Schools began with optimism that a deal could be struck. But Friday night's bargaining session ended just like every other has since they began in November 2017: without an agreement.

The union, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, will vote today, January 19, and Tuesday, January 22, to determine whether Denver teachers will go on strike at the end of the month for the first time since 1994.

"We came here tonight in good faith. We came to correct a long, outstanding problem. We made movement tonight. And we’re going to talk to our teachers tomorrow. Thank you," said Rob Gould, the union's main negotiator.

A strike would severely affect day-to-day operations in the largest school district in Colorado. Some teachers could cross picket lines to work, and the district would send in substitute teachers and other administrative staff to keep schools running. But things won't be the same without thousands of educators. Governor Jared Polis could intervene to stave off a strike.

Bernie Lopez, a retired longtime Denver Public Schools teacher, was one of the leaders of the five-day strike in 1994. "I feel sad because the teachers aren’t getting the respect, support and compensation that they should get," he says.

The two sides had been negotiating over ProComp, a pay-for-performance compensation system in place since 2005. Although initially hailed as a way to attract and retain top teaching talent, some educators now see ProComp as a failed experiment.

In negotiations, the union sought a new framework for compensating teachers that would rely less on bonuses and incentives from the ProComp fund and more on robust base salaries. The district offered to pull money out of the ProComp fund, the governor's budget and central administration and put that cash into base salaries. The district also agreed to hash out a more traditional salary schedule that offers clear ways for teachers to grow their base salaries so they don't have to worry as much about fluctuating paychecks.

But the sides were about $8 million apart, a gap too far to close in the last negotiation session.

Before negotiations fell apart, Gould expressed some praise for Susana Cordova, the new superintendent who's led DPS for less than two weeks.

"She has definitely made a better-faith effort than we’ve ever seen," Gould said. "They’ve made more movement in the last month than we’ve seen in over a year."

But Gould anticipated that the two sides wouldn't be able to reach an agreement at Friday's close. "When you get down to the wire, you see the administration start to do things where they make it a little more difficult and they try to run the clock out so you make a harsh decision.”

The two days of strike voting will be closed to the public.

"If our members do vote to strike, it will be a result of the unwillingness of DPS to invest in a professional pay system to ensure Denver students keep quality, experienced educators in their classrooms," said union president Henry Roman in a statement.

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