Denver Teachers' Union Votes "Yes" on Striking

Public schools in Denver could be in for a big jolt.

Last night, January 22, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association announced that 93 percent of its members had voted "yes" on striking, setting up a possible teachers' strike in Colorado's largest school district. The strike could start as early as Monday, January 28. It would be Denver's first since 1994.

"Denver teachers want to be in their classrooms with their students, not out on strike. But we have reached the tipping point in our negotiations with DPS where we must stand up for our profession and for our students and do what is best to keep dedicated, experienced teachers in this district," union president Henry Roman said in a statement announcing the results of the vote.

With the strike approved by union members over the course of two days of voting, Denver Public Schools will likely try to get Governor Jared Polis to intervene.

In preparation for a strike, new DPS Superintendent Susana Cordova had already made it clear that schools will continue to run even while teachers are not showing up for work. Cordova has offered $200 per day for substitute teachers, which is double their typical wage.

“To our teachers: We want and need you in our classrooms,” she said in a release issued early January 23. “Our state has underfunded education for over a decade. Fortunately, our new governor is working to change this by funding full-day kindergarten. This has helped us put more money on the table for teacher pay. We want to work to reach an agreement and we welcome support from Governor Polis and his administration to bring us both back to negotiate.” (The DPS release includes this link to the district's latest proposal.)

Since November 2017, the union and district have been negotiating overhauls to the compensation system for teachers. The talks have revolved around ProComp, a pay-for-performance compensation system once hailed as revolutionary that many Denver teachers now view with disdain. The union has been lobbying for fewer bonuses and incentives through ProComp and more money to be allocated toward base salaries.

Although both the union and the district agree that teachers deserve larger base salaries, just how much larger became the sticking point. Even as both sides moved closer during negotiation sessions in January, they were unable to agree to a new deal. On January 18, the final day of bargaining, the two sides were about $8 million apart in their proposed budgets, a gap too large to overcome.

And as the district made it increasingly clear that it wouldn't give in to any more union demands, Roman said, he and others realized there was no other option but to vote in favor of a strike.

"We are committed to our students. We are striking for them so they experience better classrooms, better educators and real results," Roman concluded.

Update: This story was updated at 8 a.m. January 23 to include Superintendent Cordova's statement in response to the strike vote.
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.