The Denver teachers union rejected the school district’s latest attempt Thursday to avert a teacher strike: a new offer that would boost the district’s proposal to increase what it spends on teacher pay by an extra $3 million, and fund two additional years of cost-of-living raises.
In all, the district’s offer would invest an additional $50 million into teacher pay over the next three years, officials said. But it still doesn’t meet the demands of the union, whose members are prepared to walk out of their classrooms in protest.
District officials had barely gotten through explaining their proposal before union negotiators asked to meet in private to discuss the deal. The crowd of at least 100 teachers and supporters in red T-shirts watching the exchange began chanting, “If they won’t pay us, shut it down!”
When union negotiators returned less than an hour later, they apologized to the crowd for “wasting your time.” Of district negotiators, lead union negotiator Rob Gould said, “They didn’t bring a proposal tonight. They brought a small IOU.”
An hour and a half after negotiations started, they were over.
“The offer you have brought today is an example of your inability to listen to our educators,” Gould told Denver Superintendent Susana Cordova and her team. He reminded her that teachers are ready to strike. “From this day forward, you will have no choice but to listen.”
The district and the union are negotiating how to revamp ProComp, Denver Public Schools’ system of bonuses and incentives that teachers receive on top of their base pay. Thursday was the first time negotiators met since talks broke down Jan. 18 and teachers voted to strike.
The two sides have been in a holding pattern since last week, when the district requested state intervention in the hopes it could help broker a deal. The union opposes intervention. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has until Feb. 11 to decide whether to get involved. Teachers cannot legally strike while a decision is pending.
The $50 million the district offered on Thursday would break down like this: an additional $20.5 million in the 2019-20 school year, an additional $3 million plus a cost-of-living raise in 2020-21, and another cost-of-living raise in 2021-22. The size of the cost-of-living raises would likely be from 2.7 to 3 percent, said Mark Ferrandino, the district’s chief financial officer.
Both the district and the union want to simplify ProComp, but they disagree on how much money should be invested into base pay versus bonuses. The union favors higher base pay and smaller bonuses, while the district wants to keep certain bonuses more robust.
Before Thursday, the cost of the district and union proposals differed by about $8.5 million (though some estimates put the two sides even farther apart). The offer the district made on Thursday would shrink that gap by about a third.
Superintendent Cordova started Thursday’s bargaining session by emphasizing that she’d prefer to reach a deal before state officials decide whether to intervene.
“As the superintendent and as a DPS parent, I know how much stress this is causing on our entire system,” said Cordova, who has a daughter in high school.
After the union ended the talks, Cordova told a gaggle of television cameras she was disappointed the union hadn’t offered a counterproposal.
“It’s really unfortunate we are where we are right now,” she said. “We’d set up tonight to negotiate from 5 o’clock to 8 o’clock. It’s not even 7 o’clock.”
Union supporters filtered back into the room. A group of children stood behind her, holding signs with messages such as, “I Stand with Teachers.” Adults shouted as she answered reporters’ questions, and a man with a drum started a chant of, “Shame! Shame! Shame!”
Cordova gathered her laptop and left.
But after the crowd dispersed, she and her team returned to stage their own form of protest: sitting at the empty negotiating table, laptops open, until the appointed ending time of 8 o’clock.
Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.