Gov. Jared Polis declines to intervene in Denver teacher pay dispute, clearing the way for a strike

The Denver Classroom Teachers Associated tweeted: “February 11th, We strike for our students.”
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Tay Anderson leads cheers during a protest to support higher wages for Denver’s teachers at the Colorado Capitol building, Jan. 30, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

By , Chalkbeat 

Clearing the way for teachers in Colorado's largest school district to go on strike, Gov. Jared Polis decided Wednesday not to intervene in a pay dispute between the Denver district and teachers union.

The Denver Classroom Teachers Associated tweeted: "February 11th, We strike for our students."

"No teacher wants to strike," union president Henry Roman said in a statement. "We would rather be teaching students in our classrooms."

But, he added, Denver Public Schools' "revolving door of teacher turnover must stop. DPS must improve teacher pay to keep quality, experienced teachers in Denver classrooms."

He said the union "remains committed to bargaining and reaching a deal with the district for a fair, predictable, competitive compensation system."

The governor's decision comes a day after he met separately with officials from Denver Public Schools and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association -- and nearly a week after the two sides returned briefly to the negotiating table, only for the union to reject the district's latest offer and suspend talks.

Denver Superintendent Susana Cordova has pledged to keep schools open during a strike. The district has been recruiting substitute teachers to fill in for teachers who walk out, and delivering to schools boxes of lesson plans for them to teach.

Some of those substitutes will likely be employees of the district's central office, who have been ordered to deploy to schools to fill both instructional and non-instructional roles. Employees who refuse could face corrective action, which could theoretically include being fired.

The district and the union are at odds over how to revamp Denver Public Schools' teacher pay system, known as ProComp. The system pays teachers a base salary, and then allows them to earn bonuses and incentives for things such as working in a hard-to-fill position.

The union wants to invest significantly more money into teachers' base salaries and shrink the size of the bonuses, which teachers complain are unpredictable. The district has pushed to keep sizable bonuses, especially for teachers who work in high-poverty schools.

The union also wants the district to increase the amount of money it puts toward teacher compensation by roughly $28 million. The district's latest offer brought the two sides to within $5.5 million of each other, but with the district's obligations spread out over several years. In addition to money, the union also wants the district to move closer to its proposed salary schedule.

The two sides have been negotiating the ProComp agreement for 14 months. At the end of a marathon bargaining session on Jan. 18, union negotiators rejected the district's latest offer and ended the talks, thereby letting the contract expire. On Jan. 22, the union announced its members had overwhelmingly voted to strike.

District officials formally requested intervention from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. The union opposed intervention, arguing it would as "futile."

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

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