DENVER (CN) – Denver teachers returned to the picket lines Wednesday morning on the third day of a strike over wages, but both the school district and the union expressed hope a deal is near.
“The strike will continue,” said Robert Gould, the Denver teachers’ lead negotiator, after 12 hours of bargaining with the district Tuesday.
“School will continue,” responded Denver Public Schools superintendent Susana Cordova.
While the picket lines officially started Monday, the union voted to strike on Jan. 22 after more than a year of negotiations with the district failed to bring a new compensation contract. The district delayed the strike by appealing to the Colorado Department of Employment and Labor, which declined to intervene.
The strike continues, but so does bargaining.
“Denver Public Schools and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association worked in good faith to find common ground on ProComp,” the parties said in a joint statement. “We exchanged proposals that are moving us closer and are hopeful that we will get to an agreement soon. However, we need a little more time to resolve the outstanding issues, and we will resume our negotiations.”
Educators and community members waited anxiously as the parties spent long hours in caucus combing over proposals that fine-tuned the limits of how far on the salary schedule educators can advance on professional development units.
The union’s latest proposal capped the teacher-directed courses at three per year, and the district offered a $1,000 bonus to teachers who completed PDUs but were unable to use them to advance further on the salary schedule.
During the last 15 months of negotiations over the compensation agreement, the teachers’ union and the school district remained largely divided on the weight performance-based bonuses should have in their compensation structure.
Over the last week, the school district cut administrative bonuses and committed to laying off 150 central office employees to increase teacher salaries. Rather than budge on the issue of bonuses, the district used its new-found funds to boost incentive bonuses for teachers in high priority schools.
The school district has a total budget of $1.135 billion for the current school year, with $400 million allocated to teacher salaries and an additional $33 million to fund a performance-based mill levy approved by voters in 2005.
In anticipation of a strike, Denver Public Schools canceled preschool classes and scrambled to hire enough subs to cover classrooms, including 1,200 substitute teachers, 300 emergency hires, and 1,400 office staff.
While cellphone-armed students filled social media platforms with videos of chaotic assemblies and busy-work worksheets, the district has emphatically said students are safe.
The district estimated 26 percent of students and 40 percent of teachers skipped school. Based on head counts and sign-in sheets, the union reported 3,769 of its 5,635 members showed up to picket.