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A screen capture from the profile pic on the Denver Classroom Teachers Association's Twitter account.
A screen capture from the profile pic on the Denver Classroom Teachers Association's Twitter account.

Denver Teachers' Strike Is Over

Just after 6 a.m. today, the 2019 teachers' strike involving Denver Public Schools and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association came to an end, with the union declaring victory.

"This agreement is a win, plain and simple: for our students; for our educators; and for our communities," DCTA president Henry Roman said in a statement. "No longer will our students see their education disrupted because their teachers cannot afford to stay in their classrooms. We are thankful that both sides were able to come together after fifteen months of bargaining to ensure our educators have a transparent salary schedule with a professional base salary scale and less reliance on unpredictable bonuses that disrupt our schools. Every Denver educator should be proud today that they accomplished something historic for their students."

According to the DCTA, the pact "reforms a pay system which largely relied on unstable bonuses, and provides stability for students who, for the past ten years, have had their education disrupted by a compensation schedule that drove their teachers away from the district." The statement (reprinted in full below) also notes that "DCTA teachers may return to the classroom today. If teachers choose not to return to work, DPS has stated that they will be unpaid."

A DPS statement that arrived about an hour after the union's (and also shared at the bottom of this post) is less celebratory and instead suggests relief. In a statement of her own, district superintendent Susan Cordova said, "This is a strong investment in our teachers — in both their base salary and the equity incentives. I'm very pleased we were able to reach a deal and in the collaborative way we worked together today. There was a recognition that we share many areas of agreement, and we worked hard to listen and find common ground on the few areas where we had different perspectives."

Talks between the two sides on February 13, held in the basement of the Central Denver Public Library, were supposed to conclude by 8 p.m. But they went hours longer, with reports aplenty along the way about narrowing differences over the DCTA's demand for across-the-board raises and DPS's fealty to the ProComp system, which supplements salaries with an assortment of bonuses for teaching in low-performing schools, taking hard-to-fill positions, etc.

For evidence, look no further than a tweet from Chalkbeat's Melanie Asmar, a former Westword writer who's absolutely killing it with her reporting on the strike and related issues. Sent at 1:23 a.m. today, February 14, the message reads: "Still in the basement, for anyone who’s still awake and following along. The sides are still caucusing."

Asmar was back at it prior to 6 a.m., when she tweeted a screen capture of the union's salary schedule....

...and proposed incentives:

There's no shortage of reasons that so much past-midnight oil was consumed on both sides. Over the week, DPS students have increasingly stepped up and spoken out on behalf of teachers. For example, there's East High senior Chloe Theil, who publicly blamed the district for chaos at the school on Monday, February 11, as well as busy-work schedules and inexperienced fill-ins who were out of their depth.

Her account reads:

I was told that there would be "rigorous lesson plans" by the subs when I came to school.... After receiving this schedule and heading to my first class, my teacher was not even a teacher. She worked at DPS and had no experience at all.

No students are learning anything at the moment, just sitting in class on their phone or doing their own work for the actual classes that we need OUR teachers for.

When the videos of the chanting and singing in the hallways broke out, I read that some people felt East needed to "do better" because it was immensely irresponsible and that we don't value our education. But I have never been more thankful to be in a community that stands up....

There was no structure or control within that building and it should be known that we will not cooperate as long as our teachers are not getting what they deserve.

At the moment, I feel that going to school is useless, and it will feel that way until I get my teachers back. The district needs to know how largely this is affecting all DPS schools and give up their selfish ways. We will not go down without a fight!!

The pressure on DPS administrators supplementing substitutes at network schools came from multiple directions. Over the past day or so, we heard stories about calls from out-of-district schools that get support for Title 1 programs and the like being answered with replies along the lines of "I'd like to help, but I'm in a classroom right now."

In the meantime, there have been ongoing disagreements between the parties over the number of teachers participating in the strike. On February 11, DPS estimated that sum at 2,600, while DCTA put it at 3,769. But the digits were all over the place. On February 12 a district release referenced "4,725 classroom teachers in district-run schools." But on February 13, the figure provided to Westword by Denver Public Schools director of media relations Will Jones was 4,447, supplemented by 1,203 charter school teachers who aren't covered by the union contract, resulting in a total of 5,650. Jones also maintained that as of noon on the 13th, teacher attendance was at 42 percent and student attendance was at 75 percent; bus ridership stood at 5,539, and 21,477 breakfast meals had been served to qualified pupils.

East High students flooding the hallways on day one of the Denver teachers' strike.
East High students flooding the hallways on day one of the Denver teachers' strike.

DCTA spokesman Mike Wetzel, meanwhile, told us on February 13 that the organization's bargaining unit "represents about 5,700 teachers and special service providers (school nurses, audiologists, certified staff like that providing specialized support to students in schools)."

Some of those staffers could be feeling the pinch very soon. Earlier this week, DPS floated its willingness to cut 150 central-office positions — a description that generates images of paper-pushing bureaucrats. In truth, such folks could well include home-health providers who go into students' homes because they are too medically fragile or have such significant behaviors that they can't be at a typical school, and autism and behavior team members, who help SPED team members figure out plans for difficult students.

When asked if such gigs are on the chopping block, DPS spokesperson Anna Alejo wrote via email, "We will release more information about the areas being cut in the coming weeks. We are cutting $20M from the central office, via reductions in positions and cost efficiencies. $13M of this is going to teacher pay. We are also investing in higher compensation for our hourly school support staff. A portion of the funds cut will also be invested in special education."

And there's another wild card. ProComp was approved by voters in 2005, and Luke Ragland, president of Ready Colorado, described on its website as "conservatives leading the charge for better schools," has dropped heavy hints that any agreement between DPS and the schools that ditches the compensation system will be challenged in court.

Clearly, that's an argument for another day. Here are the DCTA and DPS releases about the resolution, followed by a link to the tentative agreement.

Teachers demonstrating outside East High School on February 11.
Teachers demonstrating outside East High School on February 11.
Denver7 via YouTube

Denver Classroom Teachers Association news release:

Denver Educators Reach Historic Agreement with DPS, End Strike

DENVER — Today, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association reached an historic agreement with Denver Public Schools on behalf of Denver’s educators. The tentative agreement, which must be ratified by the full DCTA membership, reforms a pay system which largely relied on unstable bonuses, and provides stability for students who, for the past ten years, have had their education disrupted by a compensation schedule that drove their teachers away from the district. DCTA teachers may return to the classroom today. If teachers choose not to return to work, DPS has stated that they will be unpaid.

“This agreement is a win, plain and simple: for our students; for our educators; and for our communities,” said DCTA President Henry Roman, an elementary school teacher. “No longer will our students see their education disrupted because their teachers cannot afford to stay in their classrooms. We are thankful that both sides were able to come together after 15 months of bargaining to ensure our educators have a transparent salary schedule with a professional base salary scale and less reliance on unpredictable bonuses that disrupt our schools. Every Denver educator should be proud today that they accomplished something historic for their students.”

The full tentative agreement will be posted on the DCTA website later today. Highlights of the agreement include an increase of between seven and eleven percent in base salary on a clear and transparent 20-step salary schedule, full cost of living increases in years two and three of the agreement, the opportunity to use professional development to move lanes on the salary schedule, and an end to exorbitant five-figure bonuses for senior DPS administrators. Both sides also agreed to a study of the effects of high priority school bonuses on teacher retention.

“I am overwhelmed with gratitude for our Denver educators for being brave and bold and for standing up for Denver students and our profession,” said Amie Baca-Oehlert, high school counselor and president of the Colorado Education Association. “Denver educators didn’t just fight for their students, profession and community. They have led the way for our entire state by bringing to the forefront our students’ need for qualified, committed, and caring educators that can afford to stay in the classroom and live in the communities where they teach.”

Denver educators went on strike for our students on February 11 after 15 months of negotiations to reform the ProComp pay system with Denver Public Schools. The district repeatedly brought proposals to the table that exacerbated the problems educators were trying to fix, and did not deliver a professional salary plan that would pay all teachers a living wage and limit unpredictable bonuses that disrupt our students’ education. A breakthrough occurred on Tuesday when DPS and DCTA worked late into the night and were able to find common ground on many of the issues that have disrupted our students’ education. With the assistance of a federal mediator and a dedication to what is best for our students, both sides were able to agree on the remaining points of contention on Wednesday night and early Thursday morning.

“All week, the nation has looked to Denver with hopeful hearts,” said Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association. “We are so proud of Denver’s educators and this historic agreement that will provide greater opportunity for Denver students and stability for their schools.”

The Denver teacher’s strike received nationwide support as part of the historic #RedForEd movement that has seen educators, students, parents and community members stand up for the schools all students deserve. Over the last year, #RedForEd strikes and walkouts have occurred in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, North Carolina, Los Angeles, and other locations across the country. More #RedForEd strikes and walkouts across the country are anticipated in the coming weeks and months.

Denver Public Schools news release:

Tentative Agreement Reached

Denver — Denver Public Schools and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association reached a tentative agreement on a new ProComp contract shortly after 6 a.m. on Thursday, after negotiating through the night.

All DPS schools are open on Thursday. Preschool classes are still canceled, due to the late hour that the agreement was reached. Preschool classes will resume on Friday.

When the agreement was signed at 6:15 a.m this morning, DCTA announced that the strike is called off. Teachers are expected to return to work in order to receive pay today.

"This is a strong investment in our teachers — in both their base salary and the equity incentives," DPS Superintendent Susana Cordova said. "I'm very pleased we were able to reach a deal and in the collaborative way we worked together today. There was a recognition that we share many areas of agreement, and we worked hard to listen and find common ground on the few areas where we had different perspectives."

The tentative agreement invests an additional $23 million in teacher pay. It includes an average base salary increase of 11.7 percent next year and a cost-of-living increase the following two years. The ProComp incentive for teachers in the highest-poverty schools increases to $3000, and the incentives for teaching in Title I schools and hard-to-fill positions are $2000.

The tentative agreement must be ratified by the DCTA membership and then approved by the Denver Board of Education.

Thank you again for all of your patience and understanding this week. We’re very pleased to have reached this agreement that provides our educators with a fair, transparent, and highly competitive salary system.

Click to read the tentative agreement between Denver Public Schools and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association.

This post was updated to include the statement from Denver Public Schools and the link to the tentative agreement.

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