DENVER (CN) – In 27 degree weather, hundreds of parents, teachers and students pooled outside the Emily Griffith Technical College Thursday as the Denver Board of Education met for the first time since the local teachers’ union elected to strike.
Emily Griffith math teacher Rebecka Hendricks sat down a sign declaring “I am a math teacher, I know the difference between real and imaginary numbers,” as she took the podium.
“$8 million is 1 percent of the budget. We and are our students are worth the extra 1 percent,” Hendricks said to cheers from a crowd stretching along the city block.
Despite 14 months of negotiations, an $8 million gap remains between the teachers’ requested pay and the district’s offer. Their salary contract expired on March 14, 2018, but was extended through Jan. 18 pending negotiations.
On Tuesday, 93 percent of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association’s (DCTA) 5,635 members voted to strike for the first time in two decades over ProComp, the school district’s compensation system for teachers.
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 $45,5000 and tip the average teacher salary up to $55,819 offering "ProComp-eligible DCTA members additional incentives."
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, offering incentives based on results that are sometimes beyond the control of individual teachers or data the district lacks to accurately evaluate. Critics of the system also say the rating system gives school administrators an unfair and subjective advantage over teachers.
“I was one of the guys most against ProComp in 2015, 2014,” said Mark Barlock, an English teacher of 15 years. “I spent my own money on signs. I knew it would come to this. We need to be less reliant on the distinguished teacher rating.”
The school district appealed to Gov. Jared Polis to intervene and delay the strike for six months. In addition to being endorsed by the union’s parent organizations, the Colorado Education Association and the National Education Association, Polis campaigned largely on promising free full-day kindergarten throughout the state.
Although Polis has not made a public statement, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment has agreed to review the case.
The strike, which was scheduled to start Monday, is now delayed and could be further delayed up to 180 days if the state agency intervenes to try to broker an agreement between the two sides.
“I love my kid’s school teachers. I think they work hard and they don’t get home until 6 o’clock at night,” said Mandy Hoffman, the mother of an 8th grader.
Hoffman said she recognized that the state has limited funding to spend on education and targeted the state’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) which limits the government’s ability to raise taxes. “TABOR can’t prevent us from paying our teachers.”
A GoFundMe campaign launched last week has raised more than $10,000 by 170 donors to support teachers on strike.
Encompassing 178 schools, the Denver school district is the largest district in the state, serving more than 90,000 students.
State law mandates workers to wait 10 days before striking; teachers and administrators alike are preparing for Monday.
The school district has said it would pay subs double wages to work through a strike—$212 a day—and hinted that furloughed federal workers might be the perfect candidates to cover classrooms.