Update: A Denver teachers strike was authorized late on January 22. Learn more in our post "Denver Teachers Union Votes 'Yes' on Striking." Continue for our previous coverage.
Today at 9 a.m., members of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association will continue voting in regard to a possible strike against Denver Public Schools. And while results aren't expected until late tonight, Rob Gould, lead negotiator for the DCTA bargaining team, thinks that a majority of union educators will authorize a walkout.
"When we did internal polling two weeks ago, nine out of every ten people said they'd go on strike," Gould reveals. "And the membership continues to be frustrated by how things have gone."
There were ominous signs that a work stoppage could be on the way last week in advance of a midnight January 18 deadline agreed to by both sides. Bargaining sessions ended early on January 15, and none took place the next day. Gould and his colleagues hoped to kick-start the session slated for January 17 by way of a new proposal in which they lowered the overall proposal for boosting teacher pay in the so-called ProComp system — the term stands for "professional compensation" — from approximately $30 million to $28 million. But the DPS response struck Gould as underwhelming.
On Friday the 18th, he says, "we were supposed to meet at 10 a.m., but I believe we met at noon. DPS said they were continuing to work on things to bring us a proposal, but we didn't hear back until about four o'clock. It felt a lot like the kind of delay where they were trying to let the clock run out. We passed the proposal back at around 7 p.m. or so, and they responded at about 10 o'clock, but there was minimal movement."
Actually, the trend seemed to be moving in the wrong direction. "At one point on Friday, we were within $8 million," he estimates, "but then the number started growing again. I think I heard $9 million and then $13 million throughout the day."
DPS suggests the gap is considerably smaller because its offer of $20 million is supplemented by $6 million in transitional costs. But Gould rejects that math, since the $6 million "isn't new money. It's sitting in the ProComp trust as a balance, and it's already earmarked for teacher salaries, which is why we haven't included it in our ask. If we don't change the system, it will go to teachers in the current system anyway, so we already know what we're going to do with it. If we change the system, we'll use it differently."
Finally, at 12:48 a.m. on the 19th, the following post appeared on the DCTA Facebook page: "Failing to reach agreement on a pay system that respects educators, the teams left the table tonight." A strike vote got under way later that morning at the Riverside Church SBC, 2401 Alcott Street, with more voting slated for today. Ballots cast thus far remain sealed at this writing (an outside firm is handling the tabulation), but Gould believes final results should be available sometime around 9 p.m.
A strike authorization doesn't mean teachers will be on the picket line around DPS schools tomorrow morning. Given such an outcome, Gould believes "the district will contact the Department of Labor, and that may push us back some time as we work with them." But he also hopes "the district will say, 'We see the problem and we've got more money. Let's talk.' And we want to talk. Nobody wants a strike."
Among the sticking points beyond total compensation is the amount of credit toward raises teachers will receive for PDUs, or professional development units, that are accrued for taking new training programs and the like, as well as continuing education beyond bachelor's and master's degrees.
None of this should have blindsided DPS, Gould allows. "I've been negotiating for twelve years now" — an estimate reinforced by the union's bargaining-history timeline, reproduced below. "But there were a number of things they just weren't hearing. They should have known some of these things were issues in 2008, and in 2013, we said, 'We really need to tackle these.' They said, 'We want to study it,' so we said, 'Okay, let's study it.' So we got a study done, and it came up with the same answers. But then they wanted to do a second study and a third study, and all of those studies had similar results, too."
In November 2017, he goes on, "we started on our ProComp agreement. And last March, after there was absolutely no movement, we told them, 'If we don't have an agreement by January 19, 2019, we're going to have a strike vote.' So they've known about this for almost a year, and now the district says we need to meet them halfway. But meeting halfway doesn't fix the problem when the offer's so low."
Granted, "the district started off at zero, so they have come up. But that $8 million [difference between the proposals] is less than 1 percent of the DPS budget. There are a lot of things they could pull from to do that."
In Gould's view, the district's negotiators have been holding a hard line because they think teachers will balk at actually striking. By night's end, we should know if this theory is right.
Below, see the DCTA's negotiation timeline, followed by links to the most recent salary proposals from the union and Denver Public Schools.
November 2005: Denver voters approve a mill levy override to provide dedicated funding to ProComp.
January 2006: ProComp is fully implemented. The contract allows for a re-opener in 2007 with mutual agreement from both parties.
2007: Denver teachers are not interested in re-opening, but the district wants to make changes. In order to be good partners, the teachers agree to bargain.
2008: Several months of bargaining culminate in a 72-hour negotiation session. Then-Superintendent Michael Bennet presents an ultimatum: Teachers accept the district proposal — which includes higher bonuses and lower base pay — or the district would no longer honor the master agreement setting working conditions (i.e. class size, planning time).
2013: The ProComp agreement expires, but the district asks the teachers to postpone negotiations in order to perform a study of ProComp to inform negotiations. The teachers agreed to this.
2013-2017: During this time frame, several studies are done on ProComp while minor changes are bargained.
ProComp Studies and Evaluation
At least two independent studies of ProComp were conducted. DPS also conducted its own internal study. These studies included surveys, focus groups, visioning sessions and data analysis. Each study essentially came to the same conclusion: Teachers would prefer to have more base pay over incentives regardless of whether or not they worked in a high-needs school.
At the same time, multiple external evaluations of ProComp all determined that the district does not track the necessary data to attribute any educational impacts to ProComp.
The district and teachers continued to come together during the ProComp studies to bargain small tweaks to ProComp, but essentially the district continued to ask for extensions year after year.
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November 2017: The district and teachers begin bargaining ProComp details for the first time since 2008. Between November and March, teams come together but are not able to come to an agreement. The parties agree to extend the agreement to January 18, 2019, with the understanding that they would continue to bargain throughout. In the last 14 months, there is very little movement until the last two weeks.
November 2017-March 2018: The parties engage in interest base bargaining with Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) facilitating.
Nov. 30, 2018-Jan. 18, 2019: The parties have eight mediation sessions.