On Day 2 of strike, Denver teachers to try to hash out deal

Now that Denver Public Schools feels the impact of a huge strike, the teachers’ union hopes the school district will make an offer it can’t refuse.

After 15 months of talks went nowhere, teachers ditched classrooms for a second day Tuesday to go strike in the cold.

And even though this strike focuses on teachers’ salaries, students joined them on the picket lines, saying their teachers deserve better.

Denver teachers want higher, stable base salaries — not the unpredictable bonuses their school district uses each year to compensate for low base pay. “Our teacher retention has gotten completely out of hand,” special education teacher John Haycraft said. “We cannot keep teachers from year to year to year.”

More than 2,600 teachers missed school on the first day of the strike, Denver Public Schools spokeswoman Anna Alejo said. That’s about 56% of teachers from the district-run schools.

To make up for the loss, about 1,400 central office staff members and 400 substitute teachers are trying to fill in for the missing teachers.

Haycraft said he doesn’t mind causing some trouble for the school district.

“I think they need to show us they’ve made some serious hard choices and major, major cuts,” he said. “In a sense, make life a little bit difficult for them — the same way that it is for us.”

But this strike also has big financial consequences. For each day of the strike, Alejo said, “we estimate it could cost more than $400,000.”

That cost includes paying substitute teachers, providing strike curriculum and materials, and lost tuition from the district’s preschools, which are closed during the strike.

Denver Public Schools said it’s made several offers to the Denver Classroom Teachers Association. But the union has rejected all of those offers.

One teacher grew frustrated as the two sides negotiated in the basement of the Denver Public Library on Tuesday.

“I feel like both parties are not realizing we are on Day 2 of a district-wide strike,” said Kathryn Fleegal, an 8th grade science teacher. “Wish all this had been figured out a year ago”

At one point later in the day, teachers shouted “hey hey ho ho these unfair wages have to go” as Denver Public Schools Superintendent Susana Cordova took her seat at the bargaining table.

What each side has put up

Denver Public Schools says it has offered:

• $23 million in new funds next year for teachers’ base salaries. (That would increase the average teacher’s salary from about $55,000 to $61,000.)

• A total investment of $55 million over the next three years.

• An increased starting salary of $45,800 for new teachers.

• Another $2 million investment in base pay for teachers and specialized staff members that would “come from additional, painful cuts to our central departments, which we estimate to be an elimination of about 150 positions in the central office.”

• The elimination of performance bonuses for central office senior staff. “We would invest those funds directly in our highest-needs schools, with a proposed increase in incentive pay for teaching in our schools with the highest poverty rates,” the school district said. “Our offer increases that incentive from $2,500 to $3,000.”

But the union said it is waiting for “a fair, competitive and transparent salary schedule that prioritizes base salary over complicated, unreliable bonuses.”

These are the salaries DCTA is asking for

When will this strike end?

No one knows. But “we’re hoping for a quick solution to this whole thing,” the union’s lead negotiator Rob Gould said. “Our teachers want to be in the classrooms with their kids.”

The strike is the latest in a long line of teachers’ protests that spread across the country last year and that keep gaining momentum in 2019.

During some of the strikes, teachers got what they wanted. Other times, they didn’t. And in some states where teachers won in their protests, some accuse lawmakers of retaliating with new bills.

Cordova said she wants this strike to be history as soon as possible.

“It’s a problem for our kids not to have their teachers in class,” she said. “So I want to get this done now.”