The crowd was sparse before school ended. Then, around 3:30 p.m. Friday, dozens of teachers began streaming into the teacher pay negotiations between the Denver district and teachers union.
Negotiations are getting down to the wire. The current contract that governs Denver’s teacher pay-for-performance system, called ProComp, expires Jan. 18. The Denver Classroom Teachers Association has said it will hold a strike vote on Jan. 19 if an agreement is not reached. Because of state rules, the earliest a strike could start would be Jan. 28.
Late on Friday afternoon, Denver Public Schools officials presented a new proposal that would put an additional $6 million into teacher pay. That’s on top of the additional $17 million the district had already proposed, for a total of $23 million more.
Taking into account a previously promised cost-of-living raise, the $23 million would increase teachers’ base pay by 10 percent from this school year to the next, district officials said.
But when union negotiators asked for feedback from the teachers who’d come to watch — filling every chair, sitting cross-legged on the floor, and standing in the back — they got a series of loud boos and at least one expletive. Among their concerns: that the district’s proposal doesn’t give teachers enough of a salary boost for furthering their own education.
“We found a student with a loaded gun today,” one teacher said. “We do not get paid enough.”
Chalkbeat spoke with three teachers who attended Friday’s bargaining session. We asked their opinions on the progress of negotiations and their feelings about a strike.
Here’s what they said.
Lindsey Gillette, social studies teacher, Denver School of Innovation and Sustainable Design:
What do you, as a teacher, want from the district?
“I want to be able to feel like I can go to the doctor and pay my rent the same month. My commute is over an hour because I can’t afford to live where I teach. Students are their best selves when they’re safe and have food — and teachers are going to be the best teachers when their mortgage and rent is paid or they can get their cavities filled.”
What do you think about the prospect of a strike?
“It’s the last resort. We don’t want it to happen. … We want every kid across the district to have an equal and great education. You don’t get that when teachers are worried about being in poverty.”
“We love our kids so much, and when they know this is what we’re going through, they are with us. …. Our school day ended at 2:10 today and we walked out. Our hall was lined with kids walking with us, and kids being like, ‘I wore red today, miss. Can we picket with you?'”
Kurt Scheumann, English teacher, South High School:
What do you want parents to know?
“We see teacher turnover in DPS at a rate of 20 percent or more every year. And so parents need to know that their children’s teachers are fleeing the district, whether that’s for a different district altogether or for a different job.”
How has the teacher pay system affected you personally?
“I, personally, for my second to third to fourth year of teaching, saw a $1,000 pay cut every year because the bonuses and incentives each year decreased in value. … It just makes it impossible to plan for the future.”
How do you feel about the possibility of going on strike?
“Nobody wants to go on strike. I don’t know a single teacher who is excited to try to shut down the schools. That sounds awful. That sounds stressful. We like our jobs. We like our kids. We like the communities we serve. But it feels like it’s the only option at this point.”
Kathleen Braun, math teacher, Emily Griffith High School:
What do you think of the progress of negotiations?
“I started in 1968. I was around for the very first strike (in 1969). My question is, Why are we doing 50 years ago again? It feels very demeaning.”
How are you feeling about going on strike again?
“We don’t want to do this. There isn’t a teacher I know of who wants to go on strike. We love our students as if they were our own. We want the best for them.
“But as far as we can see, the best for them is to maintain a stable, well-educated, caring workforce and that’s not going to happen if we don’t go on strike. You can’t go to work and give 100 percent to your students when you’re wondering if you’re going to be able to make your mortgage and pay for your own child’s braces.”
Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.