DENVER (CN) – The state of Colorado will not intervene in a contract dispute between Denver Public Schools and its local teachers union, Governor Jared Polis announced at the capitol Wednesday.
"We hope and expect that both sides will continue to negotiate," Polis said. "The teachers and the district have both committed to me that they will reenter negotiations in good faith. The differences are relatively minor, we feel they can be bridged and we feel it would be a wonderful thing if both parties can spare the families of Denver from the impact of a strike by reaching an agreement now rather than after a work stoppage.”
The Denver Classroom Teachers Association voted to strike on Jan. 22 after more than a year of negotiations with the district failed to create a new compensation contract. The district delayed the strike by appealing to the Colorado Department of Employment and Labor, which declined to intervene today.
The union reaffirmed its decision to strike beginning Monday, although the governor expressed hope for a compromise before then.
“No teacher wants to strike – we would rather be teaching students in our classrooms. But when the strike starts, we will be walking for our students,” Denver teacher and DCTA President Henry Roman said in a statement. “The district’s revolving door of teacher turnover must stop. DPS must improve teacher pay to keep quality, experienced teachers in Denver classrooms.”
Roman has described the issue as an “ideological divide.”
Despite more than a year of negotiations, an $8.5 million gap remains between the teachers’ requested pay and the district’s offer. DPS is offering to raise entry-level teacher salaries from $43,255 to $45,500, but the union is holding out for a beginning salary of $45,800. Nearby Boulder Valley teachers make $47,726 while Adams County pays its teachers $40,783 for a four-day school week.
The district’s offer averages out to a 10 percent raise per teacher, but the union wants a higher base pay less reliant on bonuses.
Denver Public Schools has a total budget of $1.135 billion for this school year with $400 million allocated to teacher salary and an additional $33 million to fund a performance-based mill levy approved by voters in 2005.
Both parties have agreed to dole out $6,000 for tuition reimbursement or loan forgiveness as well as certain incentives for teaching in distinguished schools and hard-to-fill positions. While the union proposes drawing teachers to underfunded schools with a $1,750 bonus, the district has stood by its $2,500 offer.
In addition to disagreement over how bonuses should play in calculating teacher salary, the district and union disagree with how easily teachers should be able to advance salary lanes and what professional development units should contribute to advancements.
Teacher wages stagnated behind the growing costs of living in the Denver metro area, as both the population and real estate prices continue to rise. Education funding in Colorado is pinched both at the state and the local levels, with many critics pointing to the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) as the linchpin to the problem.
Passed in 1992, TABOR prevents state lawmakers from raising taxes without voter consent. A ballot initiative that would have increased school spending by $1.6 billion failed statewide last November despite support from 60 percent of Denver residents. Additionally, the 1982 Gallagher Amendment, meant to maintain a consistent balance of contributions from commercial and residential property taxes, prevents local government from benefiting in Denver’s skyrocketing real estate market.
The Learning Policy Institute highlights competitive wages as a key factor in recruiting and retaining quality teachers, but wages must be paired with policies that mentor instructors, develop quality school administration, and expand the pool of qualified educators.
“If those incentives aren’t paired with improved working conditions it won’t necessarily improve retention,” Ryan Saunders, a policy analyst at the Learning Policy Institute, said in an interview. “The research shows you would have a greater impact with these incentives if the conversation also included what you were doing to ensure there is quality leadership and making sure leaders are prepared to lead collaborative, collegial environments.”
The school district wants to return to the bargaining table Thursday, saying the strike goes against "our students’ best interest."
The district has nevertheless prepared for the worst, investing $136,000 in “sub tubs” to equip office staff to temporarily take over classrooms, according to the Denver Post.
“DCTA remains committed to bargaining and reaching a deal with the district for a fair, predictable, competitive compensation system,” Roman said. “It is incredibly disappointing that DPS has not yet taken our discussions at the bargaining table seriously. Now we will exercise our right to strike for the schools our students deserve, but we will listen when the district is ready to bring us a real proposal to consider.”
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