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Teachers Demonstrate During Last Week of Bargaining With DPS

Teachers outside Columbine Elementary School on the morning of January 14.
Teachers outside Columbine Elementary School on the morning of January 14.
Courtesy of Anna Wallenkamp
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Kurt Scheumann typically shows up to work at 6:30 a.m., an hour before the school day starts, so that he can lesson-plan and prep for the upcoming day.

But this week, the English teacher at South High School and other educators across the Denver Public Schools district will show up exactly when the first bell rings and leave as soon as school is over. Participating teachers will also not meet with students, parents or extracurricular groups during their lunch periods as part of what they're calling a demonstration during the final week of bargaining between the school district and the teachers' union. Scheumann says that approximately 75 of the 105 members of the South High teaching staff are participating.

The district and teachers are sparring over ProComp, a pay-for-performance contract that has been one of the compensation methods for teachers since 2005. If the two sides are unable to agree to a new ProComp contract, teachers could decide to strike for the first time since 1994.

Although their main teaching contracts, which are separate from ProComp, require only eight hours of work per day, teachers often come into school early to prepare and leave late to provide extra help for students or advise extracurricular groups. They also often use their lunch periods to work.

Scheumann says that without extra time to prepare, teachers can't fit everything into one day.

"Not having that extra hour of planning and prep time is really difficult. That’s work that every teacher does. No teacher can actually do their job in an eight-hour work day. But the message that it sends is important," he says.

The teachers hope to convey through the demonstration that their work is important to making schools what they are, says Scheumann. "The teachers are the ones really doing all of the work, and they should be compensated accordingly."

For some teachers, not putting in the extra prep time has already proven difficult.

"It’s been a challenge. It was tempting for me to try to do work this weekend. I had to rethink things," says Aimee Baker, a drawing and painting teacher at East High School who is participating in the boycott.

Whether the protest transitions into a full-blown strike depends on negotiations that are supposed to occur over the next few days. The district offered another contract proposal at a bargaining session on January 11, which the teachers' union rejected. And union negotiators are still asking for more money than the district says it has and want a more predictable salary schedule that eliminates the type of confusion associated with the current version of ProComp.

Both sides still have three bargaining sessions left. If they can't agree on a new contract by January 18, teachers in the union will hold a strike vote the next day.

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