5,600 Den­ver teach­ers set to go on strike

USA TODAY US Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Trevor Hughes

DEN­VER – Thou­sands of teach­ers are set to walk off the job Mon­day af­ter fail­ing to reach an agree­ment with Den­ver Pub­lic Schools ad­min­is­tra­tors over salaries and bonuses – the lat­est in a year of strikes across the na­tion.

Though class­rooms would be staffed by sub­sti­tutes and ad­min­is­tra­tors, the strike would sig­nif­i­cantly dis­rupt op­er­a­tions at the 207-school district, ad­min­is­tra­tors ac­knowl­edged. Early-child­hood class­rooms would be closed, leav­ing about 5,000 preschool­ers at home.

The strike would bring picket lines out­side schools and ral­lies at the park be­tween the State­house and Den­ver’s City Hall. The union, the Den­ver Class­room Teach­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, rep­re­sents about 5,635 ed­u­ca­tors.

“It’s not go­ing to look like a typ­i­cal school. We want to be hon­est about

that,” Su­per­in­ten­dent Su­sana Cor­dova said.

The sides met Satur­day but were un­able to re­solve their dif­fer­ences. The union left ne­go­ti­a­tions, declar­ing the strike would hap­pen Mon­day.

How will a strike look?

It’s un­clear ex­actly how the strike will af­fect schools and for how long.

Ad­min­is­tra­tors pre­pared les­son plans and se­cured sub­sti­tutes, and they plan to have schools open for at least the first few days of a strike.

Among 207 schools and about 90,000 stu­dents, any dis­rup­tion could quickly rip­ple out. DPS is one of Den­ver’s largest em­ploy­ers, and some par­ents plan to keep their kids home in an ef­fort to force it to com­pro­mise faster.

Den­ver’s vot­ers are over­whelm­ingly Democrats, and that may make many par­ents un­will­ing to cross the picket lines with their kids.

What’s this mean for par­ents?

For many par­ents, a strike won’t make a big dif­fer­ence ini­tially. Though ad­min­is­tra­tors said schools won’t op­er­ate as nor­mal, they will be open.

If the strike lingers on, ad­min­is­tra­tors might run out of sub­sti­tutes and fill-ins. The preschool­ers won’t be able to at­tend be­cause the district can’t quickly meet state-man­dated stan­dards for back­ground checks and qual­i­fi­ca­tions for subs in early-child­hood class­rooms.

What’s this mean for kids?

Ex­cept for preschool­ers, stu­dents will be ex­pected to at­tend classes.

Most meal pro­grams will op­er­ate. Nearly 70 per­cent of DPS stu­dents qual­ify for free or re­duced-price lunches.

Why are teach­ers strik­ing?

Den­ver’s teach­ers are frus­trated by what they see as chronic un­der­fund­ing of pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion in Colorado, along with un­cer­tainty in their salaries.

School ad­min­is­tra­tors tried to help in­crease pay for some teach­ers by cre­at­ing bonuses for high per­for­mance, but the union wants to see all teach­ers get base raises and cost-of-liv­ing in­creases.

A big part of teach­ers’ frus­tra­tion is with the sys­tem known as “ProComp,” which rolled out in 2005. ProComp was sup­posed to help the best teach­ers earn more money for help­ing stu­dents achieve high test scores or work­ing in trou­bled schools.

A start­ing teacher in Den­ver earns $43,255 a year. The district of­fered to raise that to $45,500, but teach­ers want $45,800. ProComp bonuses can add up to $7,000 to a teacher’s pay­check.

“The district’s re­volv­ing door of teacher turnover must stop. DPS must im­prove teacher pay to keep qual­ity, ex­pe­ri­enced teach­ers in Den­ver class­rooms,” said the union pres­i­dent, Henry Ro­man.

Teach­ers won’t be paid dur­ing the strike, and other unions are set­ting up food banks to help.

What’s the district’s re­sponse?

The district ar­gues the bonus sys­tem re­wards the best teach­ers when sur­plus tax­payer money is lim­ited.

School fund­ing in Colorado is set by leg­is­la­tors, who are lim­ited in how much they can in­crease the state bud­get an­nu­ally. In fall 2018, vot­ers re­jected a bal­lot mea­sure that would have raised taxes on peo­ple earn­ing more than $150,000 an­nu­ally, ded­i­cat­ing the ex­tra money to schools across the state. The mea­sure eas­ily passed in Den­ver but failed be­cause vot­ers out­side the metro area op­posed it.

District of­fi­cials say each day of a strike will cost about $400,000. They say it’s im­por­tant to pay teach­ers well but tout the bonus sys­tem as the best way to re­ward teach­ers.

How far apart are par­ties in talks?

Not far, in the con­text of the over­all bud­get of about $958 mil­lion: about $8 mil­lion, Cor­dova said last week. State of­fi­cials urged the two sides to reach a deal be­fore Mon­day morn­ing.

“A strike is an ef­fort of last resort, and one where the ram­i­fi­ca­tions are im­mense, un­pre­dictable and costly,” the Depart­ment of La­bor and Em­ploy­ment said in a let­ter to the district su­per­in­ten­dent last week, urg­ing a res­o­lu­tion. “Ad­di­tional costs will be in­flicted upon Den­ver fam­i­lies should schools not be able to of­fer full ser­vices, and teach­ers go­ing with­out wages will also bear the cost bur­dens of a strike in ways that are dif­fi­cult to cal­cu­late.”

Aren’t teach­ers strik­ing all over?

Teach­ers have pick­eted across the U.S. since Fe­bru­ary 2018. There have been walk­outs and ral­lies in West Vir­ginia, Ari­zona, Ok­la­homa, North Carolina, Ken­tucky, Colorado and Wash­ing­ton state, and most re­cently in Los An­ge­les.

Teach­ers in Oak­land, Cal­i­for­nia, could walk out this month.

DAVID ZALUBOWSKI/AP

Teach­ers in Den­ver plan to strike Mon­day if they don’t reach an agree­ment about pay with the school district.

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