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Pissing Match Between DPS and Union Over How Many Teachers Are Striking

The picket line in front of East High School on February 11.
The picket line in front of East High School on February 11.
Denver7 via YouTube
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Of all the issues that separate Denver Public Schools and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association union during the current teachers' strike, the one that best symbolizes the bad blood between the parties may be the disagreement over how many educators are actually participating.

The DPS number is fairly low. The DCTA estimate is quite high. And never the twain shall meet.

The first figure to be floated before the media was 2,100. District spokesman Will Jones says this digit was mentioned during a press conference on Sunday, February 10, the day before the walkout began, in the context of teachers who'd informed DPS that they wouldn't be in class the following day.

On Monday, the district acknowledged that the previous guess undershot the actual total, which was said to be closer to 2,600. But the DCTA subsequently disputed this sum and maintained that sign-in sheets and head counts established that 3,769 teachers and special-service providers had picketed at select schools in the Mile High City.

"More educators likely stayed out of school but were unable to come to participate in a picket due to childcare needs, working a second job or other personal circumstances," a union release added.

And how many teachers are actually in DPS? The "Facts & Figures" section on the district's website says 4,329 — but another page reveals that this stat dates back to December 2015. The current number being provided by the district to media outlets such as USA Today is 4,725. And in an announcement this morning about the restart of negotiations scheduled for 10 a.m., DPS states, "Acording to preliminary reports, 42 percent of the district’s 4725 classroom teachers in district-run schools reported to work. At the thirty highest priority schools where teachers receive incentive pay for working in high poverty settings, 49 percent of teachers reported to work. Student attendance at the start of the school day was reported to be 76 percent. DPS continued to serve meals at all schools, providing 22,796 servings of breakfast."

These assertions demonstrate the disconnect between the way the district and the union are calculating participation. If the 4,725 teachers noted above are all union members, fewer than 1,000 teachers in DPS decided not to strike by the union's reckoning. But charter school teachers, who are employees of the district but not members of the union, represent a wild card. Around a quarter of the schools in DPS are charters — and 25 percent of 4,725 is 1,181. That leaves a difference of 3,544 — a number of potential strikers that's less than the union estimate.

Leon Jaffe took part in his third Denver teachers' strike yesterday. He worked at Hamilton Middle School in the 1970s.
Leon Jaffe took part in his third Denver teachers' strike yesterday. He worked at Hamilton Middle School in the 1970s.
Photo courtesy of Zoe Yabrove

We've reached out to both DPS and DCTA to get their estimates of total teachers in the district, as well as total charter school teachers, and will update this post if and when they get back to us. But clearly, these figures are important when it comes to the strike's power dynamic. Fewer strikers suggests a lack of unity among the teachers, which could favor DPS. A greater number spells trouble for the district, especially if it stays firm over the course of a potentially prolonged walkout.

In the latter case, charters could benefit should parents or guardians pull their students from other public schools and enroll them in DPS institutions where all regular teachers remain on the job — and that could exacerbate the tension that a former teacher at a low-performing district school who's moved to a charter lamented in this space yesterday.

You can't tell the players without a scorecard.

Here's today's strike schedule, as shared by the DCTA:

February 12

6:30-9:00 a.m. — Educators picket at schools across Denver.

10:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m. — Denver educators will stand in solidarity with their bargaining team as they sit back down at the table with DPS at Denver Central Library.

10:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. — Educators and community members convene at East High School to picket.

12:30 p.m. — March from East High School to Civic Center Park.

1:00 p.m. — Rally and march at Civic Center Park and Denver Central Library with faith, community, student and educator leader speakers.

Picket Sites

Educators will picket at schools across Denver. The following schools will have the largest presence and provide the most compelling visuals and interview opportunities.

East High School
1600 City Park Esplanade, Denver, CO 80206

North High School
2960 Speer Blvd, Denver, CO 80211

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