Hundreds gathered for a marathon negotiation session that stretched into the early morning.EXPAND
Hundreds gathered for a marathon negotiation session that stretched into the early morning.
Jim Dissett

Strike Averted as DPS Reaches Last-Minute Contract With Teachers' Union

Months-long negotiations between Denver Public Schools and the Denver Classroom Teachers' Association (DCTA) concluded on September 1, ending the possibility that teachers would be left without workers' rights just weeks into the 2017-2018 school year.

The new five-year contract, which was finalized in a marathon twenty-hour session last Thursday and Friday, includes a raise in teachers' salaries and the creation of a "Whole Child" joint task force to address the nutrition and mental-health needs of students. The contract still has to be approved by DPS and DCTA leadership before it can go into effect.

"It was a very long negotiation, but also a very important one," says DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg. "It was an opportunity to listen to the concerns of teachers, and I think we made some huge inroads."

Boasberg is proud of the teachers' raise in salaries, which he says is the largest raise for teachers in the Denver metro area, and is relieved that both sides reached agreement on a successful contract.

Under the contract, all teachers will receive a base raise of $1,400 for the next school year. On top of that, teachers employed at underserved schools will receive an additional $1,500 in the 2018-2019 school year, and teachers who are enrolled in health plans with children will also be granted $1,200 annually.

"Both sides are very passionate," Boasberg says. "Not finding a solution would have been a very bad outcome for everyone."

Corey Kern, DCTA executive director, is also pleased with the results of the negotiations and says that the creation of the "Whole Child" joint task force was a big victory for the DCTA. That panel will be composed of five teachers, five school district staffers and five community members, and will focus on providing for the "whole" health of students through recommendations for nutrition and mental-health programs.

The idea, says Kern, is that students can't learn if they are underfed or struggling with mental-heath issues. "This will be great, because we can ask, how do we address the well-being of our students? What is important to their social, physical and emotional health?"

This comes after DPS announced last month that it was changing its policy on overdue lunch payments, which required school cafeterias to provide students whose lunch bill had not been paid with $6 in food, enough for three days of grilled cheese sandwiches and milk.

Heated negotiations began in January 2017 and stalled in late June when DPS declared an impasse. That resulted in the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services serving a mediation role in the last ten days of negotiations, which Boasberg called "very helpful."

However, the compromise required DCTA to drop two important demands: a temporary ban on charter schools, and a raise in teachers' salaries from about $40,000 to $50,000. Kern says both are important to Denver: DPS has embraced charters as a strategy to alleviate burdens on traditional public schools, and the cost of living in Denver is rising, leaving teachers struggling to live by their neighborhood schools.

"We're really committed to raising teachers' salaries," says Kern. "Every year, the consumer price index here rises, and it is really important for recruiting new teachers and holding existing ones that they are paid a living wage."

The marathon negotiation session began at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday and lasted until after 4 a.m. Friday morning. Superintendent Boasberg estimates that 300 teachers and parents were there, and he thanks them for their support.

"It's a great place to move forward from," he says of the contract.

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