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Denver Teachers Demonstrate Outside the Capitol

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More than 500 members of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association and supporters demonstrated at sunset outside the Colorado State Capitol on January 30. (Amanda Pampuro/CNS)

DENVER (CN) – After school Wednesday
evening, hundreds of Denver public school teachers who voted to strike gathered
in front of the Colorado State Capitol, donning yellow sashes of caution tape.

“It’s cautioning to beware of
pissed off teachers,” explained one man unloading yards of ribbon from his arm.

Denver Public Schools and the
Denver Classroom Teachers Association are expected to meet Thursday morning to
discuss the compensation agreement that drove the union to vote to strike last
week. 

In response to the looming
strike, the district formally requested the Colorado Department of Employment
and Labor to intervene. Any strike is legally stalled until the state issues a
response.

The Colorado Education
Association, the union’s parent group, sponsored Gov. Jared Polis in the
election. Wednesday morning, Polis met with legislatures to make good on his
campaign promise for free universal kindergarten in the state, but he has not
indicated whether he will step in between the district and the union.

“Polis campaigned on teacher’s
rights, so I hope he respects that this is a dispute between an employer and
employees,” said Jessica Wolf, a local first grade teacher. “The $8 million
boils down to $58 per paycheck, so it’s not about the money—it’s about the
students, they deserve the best.

Current teacher salary starts
at $39,851 with the district average of $50,449. The
school district’s proposed budget would increase starting pay to $45,500,
tipping the average teacher salary up to $55,819 along with offering “additional
incentives” to teachers through the state’s compensation program known as
ProComp.

Despite more than a year of
negotiations, an $8.5 million gap remains between the teachers’ requested pay
and the district’s offer. The district offered an average 10 percent raise per
teacher, but the union is holding out for 12.5 percent pay raises that are less
reliant on bonuses. ProComp expired on March 14, 2018, but was extended through
Jan. 18 pending negotiations.

The ProComp system adopted by
Denver voters in 2015 touts financial incentive to teachers in disadvantaged
schools and who meet certain educational goals.

But the union criticized the
pay system as unpredictable, dangling incentives that are beyond the control of
individual teachers or that the district lacks the data to accurately evaluate.
Critics of the system also say it gives school administrators an unfair and
subjective advantage over teachers.

In its own petition to the
state Department of Labor and Employment, the union underlined that the dispute
hinges on a “philosophical difference behind the salary schedules.”

“[The district’s] steadfast
insistence on incentivizing teachers differently than other Colorado school
districts is contrary to the findings of studies conducted by both parties,”
the union wrote. “Ever since the adoption of ProComp 2.0, studies have
consistently found that teachers are not motivated by unpredictable bonuses,
and such bonuses do not reduce teacher turnover. Rather, teachers are more
likely to continue teaching in a school district when they have the ability to
earn a livable wage, and when they can accurately forecast their future
earnings.”

The district said educators’
base pay raise would come at the cost of incentives used to bring teachers to
high poverty schools.

In its request to the state for
intervention, the district worried that a strike carried the burden of lost
instructional time and empathized the number of students who rely on their
schools for medical care and meals.

The district has said it would
pay subs double wages to work through a strike—$212 a day—and teachers observed
as boxes of “sub plans” were delivered to schools. But some teachers wished the
district would pool those resources into a plan to stop a strike rather than
cope with one.

“We can’t even print copies of
lesson materials, and they’re printing boxes of sub materials and canceled
scheduled professional development to prepare for a strike,” said one Merrill
Middle School teacher, adding that she remains “optimistically hopeful” that a
deal will be struck.

“We were supposed to focus on
narratives today, but two-thirds of my students joined in a sit-in in the hall
in support of their teachers. They were writing emails and letters to
lawmakers,” said Aly Nutter, a language arts teacher at Merrill Middle School.
“We just want to be treated and compensated as professionals.”

Encompassing 178 schools, Denver
has the largest district in the state, serving more than 90,000 students.

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