Denver Strike Ends; Teachers to Get Big Raises

Instructors march to Denver Public Schools headquarters to deliver Valentine Day cards on Feb. 13, 2019, in Denver. Teachers walked off their jobs Monday, the first strike by teachers in Denver in 25 years. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

DENVER (CN) – Denver’s school district and its teachers’ union agreed to the terms of a new compensation contract early Thursday morning, bringing a three-day strike to an end.

The announcement came as relief for one Lincoln Elementary School teacher who spent the night making Valentines for her kindergarten students.

“I love my students and I want to get back to them,” said Suzette Montera-Smith.

By the Denver Classroom Teachers Association’s count, 3,769 of its 5,635 members left their posts Monday to strike over a wage agreement with Denver Public Schools. The district and union met in marathon negotiations this week to redesign the compensation structure to give teachers professional wages within a constrained budget.

“Today is a historic day,” said union negotiator Robert Gould. “Today we celebrate a victory that Denver educators won for our students. Educators in Denver Public Schools now have a fair, predictable and transparent salary structure that will serve to retain our experienced educators.”

Under the new agreement, average base salaries will increase between 7 and 11 percent across a 7-lane, 20-step salary schedule. Entry-level wages start at $45,800 with the option to earn $100,000 for those with a doctorate. Educators can advance lanes by earning college credit, an advanced degree, professional development units, or simply by sticking around. Ten years of employment in the district equates to one lane jump.

During the last 15 months of negotiations over the compensation agreement, the union and the school district remained largely divided on the weight incentive bonuses should have in their compensation structure.

Under the new agreement, distinguished school teachers will receive a $750 incentive bonus. Teachers in Title 1 and hard-to-staff positions receive $2,000 bonuses. The union agreed to give high-priority teachers a $3,000 bonus, on the condition that district will study other non-monetary issues in the school which would also contribute to retention including smaller class sizes and strengthening curriculum.

“I never thought about getting my master’s before, because there was no real incentive, but seeing this proposal, I think I might,” said Mark Barlock, an English teacher at Emily Griffith High School.

Asked how she marathoned between picket lines for three days on end, elementary school teacher Maribel Villanueva said, “Passion.”

“We get that energy from our love for our students, we get that energy from our passion,” said Villanueva, who was ready to strike through Monday if that’s what it took.

The agreement runs through 2022 and will be put to union members for a vote this week. Teachers are encouraged to return to their classroom Thursday.

As she clicked her pen to sign the agreement, Superintendent Susana Cordova looked toward the state capitol.

“It is so critical not only that we have this agreement but that we get the same kind of commitment and collaboration around our state funding,” Cordova said. “We’re in the shape we’re in because of the lack of will and the lack of collaboration at the state level to invest in our schools. There is no reason why Colorado, one of the wealthiest states in the nation, is at the bottom when it comes to financing our schools.”

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