Denver Teachers Walk Out as Talks to Prevent DPS Strike Break Down

This Twitter photo by Chalkbeat's Melanie Asmar had this caption: "After the room cleared out, Denver Superintendent Susana Cordova and the district negotiators returned. Cordova: 'We’re scheduled to negotiate from 5 until 8, and it's 7:30.'"
This Twitter photo by Chalkbeat's Melanie Asmar had this caption: "After the room cleared out, Denver Superintendent Susana Cordova and the district negotiators returned. Cordova: 'We’re scheduled to negotiate from 5 until 8, and it's 7:30.'" @MelanieAsmar
The resumption of talks between the Denver Classroom Teachers Association union and Denver Public Schools on January 31 made no progress toward preventing the first Mile High City teachers' strike in a quarter-century. Indeed, ground may actually have been lost.

The DCTA reacted to a new offer from DPS with disdain, walking out early from the planned three-hour session, leaving district negotiators, including new superintendent Susana Cordova, to linger in a practically empty room.

On January 30, the day before the planned session, DPS had released a letter from Cordova to families that raised hopes for a resolution. "I am pleased to share that we will return to the negotiating table with the DCTA tomorrow, Thursday, January 31," Cordova wrote. "We will continue bargaining, including sharing a new proposal that builds on our current offer to increase the average base salary for DPS teachers by 10 percent next year. I look forward to engaging in the discussion with the DCTA negotiating team."

Cordova continued: "I want to restate my commitment to work arm-in-arm with our educators to fix state funding for education. Despite being one of the wealthier states in the nation, Colorado is among the lowest when it comes to K-12 public school funding. I will continue to work with superintendents and legislators to more fully fund our schools. Students, families, educators and community members are encouraged to contact their elected representatives to ensure their voices are heard on this issue."

Previously, the union and the district appeared to be about $8 million apart on a new pact. Last night, DPS boosted its offer by an estimated $3 million for the 2020-2021 school year and tossed in cost-of-living raises and other incentives said to include about $50 million to increase teacher salaries over a three-year period.

But if the district's representatives saw this proposal as meeting the DCTA halfway, the teachers didn't. The union's primary negotiator, Rob Gould, dismissed Cordova's assertions that she represented new blood at the district with this line: "Susana, you are the previous administration." Then he and the other teachers split, as seen in the following video:

Another tweet from the union reads: "We’ve been scheduled to negotiate for the last 15 months. @DPSNewsNow should let us know when they’re ready to bargain in good faith and stop wasting our time."

This point was underscored by a quote attributed to DCTA president Henry Roman, emailed to the press at 6:44 p.m. Given that the meeting got under way at 5 p.m., this timing — which essentially coincided with the walkout — suggests that the union had been prepared for things to go south.

"Tonight was a lost opportunity for students, parents and the community," Roman's statement begins. "Denver teachers are very disappointed that DPS did not take this bargaining session seriously. The district offered no new ideas for creating a fair, competitive salary schedule that will keep good teachers and special service providers in our schools. Instead, DPS offered the promise of more money in the future, but after several years of broken promises, we’re not willing to accept an I.O.U. DCTA remains committed to good-faith bargaining when DPS is ready to come back to the table with a thoughtful proposal aimed at reversing the massive teacher turnover our students suffer from year after year."

Cordova's own remarks struck a very different tone. "I am disappointed that the DCTA did not engage in the discussion or bring a counter-proposal," she said in a release. "They chose to leave at 6:45 p.m. when we were scheduled to bargain until 8 pm. We came committed to negotiating, and had anticipated we would have the opportunity to share additional ideas with DCTA about the structure of the new system. We would have been willing to provide a counter-proposal if we had seen one brought forward by the Association."

At this point, it's unclear if another negotiating session will be scheduled. The union points out that it is "awaiting a decision by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment on whether or not the state will intervene in the labor dispute. DCTA has requested the state not intervene in the matter; that decision is expected by February 11."
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts