DPS: All schools to be open for strike’s 1st day

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Saja Hindi The Den­ver Post

Less than 24 hours from the be­gin­ning of a seem­ingly in­evitable teach­ers strike — Den­ver’s first in a quar­ter cen­tury — key un­knowns re­mained.

How many of Den­ver’s 5,353 ed­u­ca­tors will join the walkout over bet­ter pay? Will Den­ver Pub­lic Schools be able to em­ploy enough sub­sti­tute teach­ers, and shift enough cen­tral-of­fice em­ploy­ees, to keep each of the dis­trict’s 160 schools open through­out a strike?

And how many con­cerned par­ents will sim­ply keep their kids home?

The first hint at an an­swer to one of those ques­tions came Sun­day evening, when DPS of­fi­cials an­nounced that all of the dis­trict’s schools will be open Mon­day — al­though preschool classes, as ex­pect-

ed, will be can­celed. The dis­trict will as­sess staffing at each school on a daily ba­sis, and hasn’t ruled out need­ing to close fa­cil­i­ties if the strike con­tin­ues.

DPS Su­per­in­ten­dent Su­sana Cor­dova be­gan the day Sun­day meet­ing with dis­trict of­fi­cials to dis­cuss their lat­est teacher-com­pen­sa­tion pro­posal. But the room that’s hosted the dis­trict’s bar­gain­ing ses­sions with the Den­ver Class­room Teach­ers As­so­ci­a­tion looked sig­nif­i­cantly dif­fer­ent than it did Sat­ur­day night — for one thing, the union wasn’t there.

Fol­low­ing failed con­tract talks Sat­ur­day night, union rep­re­sen­ta­tives de­clared they were ready to strike Mon­day, and wouldn’t re­sume ne­go­ti­a­tions un­til Tues­day. Dis­trict of­fi­cials nev­er­the­less pledged to meet again Sun­day and in­vited the union to con­tinue bar­gain­ing.

Den­ver teach­ers now are set to walk out for the first time since 1994, hav­ing failed to reach a new com­pen­sa­tion agree­ment in­volv­ing the 20-year-old pay sys­tem called ProComp. The dis­trict has hired 300 new sub­sti­tute teach­ers in ad­di­tion to its 1,200-per­son ac­tive ros­ter of subs, while 1,400 em­ploy­ees from the cen­tral ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fice will be re­quired to help fill in the gaps at schools.

A “fluid sit­u­a­tion”

Dis­trict spokes­woman Anna Alejo said Sun­day that she can’t share in­for­ma­tion about how many sub­sti­tute teach­ers will go to which schools be­cause it’s a “fluid sit­u­a­tion” and will de­pend on what hap­pens on Mon­day. But she said schools won’t look as they do reg­u­larly.

Some schools have sent emails to par­ents ex­plain­ing lo­gis­tics and ex­pec­ta­tions, such as Bill Roberts K-8 School, which told par­ents and guardians on Fri­day that in ad­di­tion to ad­min­is­tra­tors, of­fice staff mem­bers and para­pro­fes­sion­als, the dis­trict had as­signed three li­censed sub­sti­tute teach­ers to the school and seven un­li­censed DPS cen­tral em­ploy­ees. The email stated that five of the school’s parae­d­u­ca­tors also had sub­sti­tute-teach­ing li­censes.

Other schools have sent reg­u­la­tions on what stu­dents can and can’t bring to school, and at least one has ex­plained that ab­sences dur­ing the strike that par­ents call in to ex­cuse won’t count against stu­dents.

Some par­ents have said it feels like the dis­trict is try­ing to dis­cour­age at­ten­dance dur­ing the strike. How­ever, Cor­dova said on Sun­day that one of the lessons learned from the re­cent Los An­ge­les teach­ers strike — which saw high stu­dent ab­sen­teeism — is that high-poverty schools con­tinue to see strong at­ten­dance rates dur­ing a strike, so the dis­trict is work­ing to en­sure gaps are filled.

Cor­dova ex­pressed dis­ap­point­ment that the teach­ers union de­cided not to come back to the bar­gain­ing table Sun­day, say­ing the dis­trict was will­ing to con­tinue work­ing on a pro­posal through­out the day. “The gover­nor said it, our me­di­a­tor said it. ‘This ends with a deal,’ ” Cor­dova said.

The teach­ers union sent an email Sun­day af­ter­noon say­ing that af­ter 10 hours of ne­go­ti­a­tions on Fri­day and Sat­ur­day, “DPS con­tin­ued to bring pro­pos­als that ex­ac­er­bate the prob­lems ed­u­ca­tors are try­ing to fix. Both par­ties will take time to cool off and come back to­gether Tues­day.”

Den­ver po­lice of­fi­cials said on Sun­day that they will fol­low their op­er­a­tions man­ual on la­bor strikes, which in­cludes en­sur­ing of­fi­cers don’t take sides but main­tain safety and avoid ar­rests for mi­nor in­ci­dents as much as pos­si­ble.

Hop­ing kids get “some level of ed­u­ca­tion”

Par­ents, stu­dents and even teach­ers have been try­ing to make sense of what the strike could mean for them come Mon­day.

Henry Wald­stre­icher, a se­nior at Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton High School, said he plans to join his teach­ers on the picket line at 6:30 a.m. and be in class by 7:25 a.m.

Wald­stre­icher said his teach­ers “have been ab­so­lutely in­cred­i­ble” and he plans to sup­port them — and hopes DPS will do the same. He said he’s wor­ried that if the par­ties don’t come to an agree­ment af­ter a few days of strik­ing, stu­dents in­clud­ing him­self will get be­hind in their work.

Sev­enth-grader Haven Cole­man said she plans to go to school Mon­day in an ef­fort to over­whelm the dis­trict, so of­fi­cials rec­og­nize how im­por­tant their teach­ers are.

“When my teach­ers leave to go some­where else for bet­ter pay, I feel like my ed­u­ca­tion has been handed away. Given to an­other kid,” she said. “My teach­ers are the best, so I want the best for them.”

Lorna McLean-Thomas is the mother of a preschooler who won’t be able to at­tend classes dur­ing the strike. She’s able to stay home with her child and has of­fered to watch other par­ents’ kids for short pe­ri­ods of time dur­ing the strike. McLeanThomas said the par­ents have a Face­book group and are able to com­mu­ni­cate that way, but she wor­ries about refugee and im­mi­grant fam­i­lies who don’t have the same re­sources or ac­cess.

But McLean-Thomas said she’s sup­port­ive of the teach­ers. She blames the dis­trict for not hav­ing a backup plan when of­fi­cials knew the pos­si­bil­ity of a strike was there for months, leav­ing fam­i­lies such as hers to find their own so­lu­tions.

Nick Onofrio is a par­ent of a third-grader in the dis­trict and said the an­i­mos­ity be­tween the teach­ers union and school dis­trict has been dis­heart­en­ing.

“We will send our child to school op­ti­mistic they will re­ceive some level of ed­u­ca­tion,” he said. “… We also en­cour­age DPS and the DCTA to work to­gether to a rea­son­able short­term so­lu­tion.”

Alex Mad­dock, a for­mer teacher in Mary­land and a DPS em­ployee in the dis­trict’s cen­tral of­fice who will be de­ployed into the schools, said the rhetoric has been dis­heart­en­ing for him to see as well. He said he sup­ports teach­ers but feels the way the dis­cus­sions were han­dled by the union were not ap­pro­pri­ate.

“I am em­bar­rassed to be a DPS em­ployee to­day,” he said.

Andy Cross, The Den­ver Post

From left, Den­ver Pub­lic Schools teach­ers Lau­ren Griner and Keri Phillips shout dur­ing Sat­ur­day’s ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween the Den­ver Class­room Teach­ers As­so­ci­a­tion and DPS dis­trict of­fi­cials.

He­len H. Richard­son, The Den­ver Post

From left, Den­ver Pub­lic Schools teach­ers Moira Casa­dos Cas­sidy, Rachel Brody and Adri­enne An­der­son make signs Sun­day ahead of the strike.

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