Denver teacher strike day three: What we’re seeing and hearing

Manasseh Oso, who teaches 9th and 10th grade social studies at Manual High School, poses for a portrait on the picket line. Whittier, Feb. 13, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Manasseh Oso, who teaches 9th and 10th grade social studies at Manual High School, poses for a portrait on the picket line. Whittier, Feb. 13, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Representatives from Denver Public schools and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association will resume negotiations at 10 a.m. Wednesday morning after what seemed to be a productive day of negotiations, with movement on both sides Tuesday. Denverite reporters are again out in the world — we’ll be updating this post. Let us know if you see anything we should know about: tips@denverite.com.

The latest:

The basement-level conference room at the Denver Public Library on Wednesday morning was once again buzzing as teachers and their supporters gathered for the start of day two of negotiations between the district and the teachers union.

The teachers union even delivered some food for thought: A cake with the message “And you can eat it too!” written in frosting was placed on the bargaining table before either side arrived. The message was in response to an exchange between the union bargaining team and Superintendent Susana Cordova during Tuesday’s negotiations.

The tone of Wednesday morning’s meeting between the district and the teachers union was pretty positive. The two sides met for less than 20 minutes after the district presented its new proposal, which included an updated look at “lane” changes and new plans for how professional development can factor into a teacher’s base salary.

Somewhat surprisingly, some of the district’s ideas prompted applause from the audience member. This happened a few times; it was a much different scene than Tuesday’s meeting, which was peppered with jeering. After the district presented its proposal, DCTA lead negotiator Rob Gould said the union didn’t have any questions but asked for a break to give them a chance to review the proposal.

Cordova started out by thanking everyone for the progress made on Tuesday. The two sides met until about 11 p.m.

“Yesterday was a long day. But really, really glad that we’re back here to continue the progress toward an agreement,” Cordova said.

Gould thanked Cordova for the work done Tuesday as well.

Teachers union and district representatives met at the negotiating table shortly after 1 p.m. and almost immediately struck a positive tone. Gould said the union had “accepted” a majority of the language provided by the district in their latest proposal.

“I think that’s pretty exciting,” Gould said, prompting some applause from the room.

The discussion turned over bonuses versus base pay after the two sides mostly agreed on language related to ‘lane’ changes.” The union has stressed they want less of a focus on bonuses for teachers as incentives and instead want more money added to educators base pay.

Fairview Elementary School teacher Sue Medina attended Wednesday’s meeting in her daughter’s bright red high school graduation robes. It’s a reminder of the future she wants for her 4-year-old students. She’s been teaching for 33 years.

She’s been picketing since Monday and attended negotiations on Tuesday as well.

Fairview Elementary School early childhood education teacher Sue Medina poses for a portrait on Feb. 13 at Denver Public Library. (Esteban L. Hernandez/Denverite)

Fairview Elementary School early childhood education teacher Sue Medina poses for a portrait on Feb. 13 at Denver Public Library. (Esteban L. Hernandez/Denverite)

“It feels different than yesterday,” Medina said after the two sides broke for private meetings. “It’s a little bit more relaxed. I think people are … coming together. Yesterday we were a little bit more tense.”

Earlier Wednesday morning, energetic group of 40 teachers, kids and parents picketed outside Cole Arts and Sciences Academy to the bass and rhymes of Snap!’s “The Power.”

Drivers on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard honked in solidarity (one gave strikers the finger).

“I’m out here because I have never had less than two jobs,” said Toni Ogundare, a 28-year-old speech therapist at Cole, which serves kids from pre-K through high school. “And after spending hundreds of thousands on my master’s degree, I’m still not able to make my monthly payments on my loans and live comfortably in my one bedroom apartment without living paycheck to paycheck.”

While the gaggle chanted and danced outside, some educators remained inside the building. These Denver Public School employees are either part-time, so they’re not allowed to strike, or they have work visas and are wary of retaliation from DPS.

“Cole was really affected by the threats to teachers on visas,” said strike captain Lauren Goettche. “That’s mainly who is staying in the building. Even though DPS released that statement saying they were in the wrong, they were way too scared to take a chance.”

As the strike leader, Goettche gets heads to the teachers union headquarters each morning and gets her marching orders for the day. They include two picketing demonstrations and a letter-writing campaign to Superintendent Susana Cordova.

Ogundare and her colleague Brandi Alexander, a special education teacher, both said Cole could use more money — for school supplies and to retain good teachers.

“We’ve had some great teacher but they’ve moved to other districts to get better pay,” Alexander said.

At about 10 a.m., the picket line packed up its speakers and signs and headed to East High School for another demonstration.

There was a modest picket line outside Whittier Elementary School as rush hour began to fade. Leona Ortega, a third-grade math teacher, a former student at Whittier and a parent of Whittier students, said there hasn’t been a lot of turnover because teachers really want to be there. She commutes a half hour from commerce city to get there every day.

Asked how she thought negotiations were going, Ortega said, “I don’t think they’re where we need them to be, honestly, or we wouldn’t be here.

“I don’t think they’re going to figure it out today. They were there until 11 o’clock last night and they still haven’t talked about the bulk of what we need, which is the base pay. All they’ve talked about was incentives and PDUs. That’s important as well, but we’re all here because we value our students … We want to be here for our students, but how can we be when we’re not financially stable?”

A small group of teachers marched outside of the shared Manual High and Middle School building on Wednesday morning. Rachel Davis, choir and theater teacher at Manual Middle, took a break from leading chants to talk to us:

“Watching the last video last night at 10:45 in the library, I felt optimistic that they’re really starting to both make some bigger moves. The DCTA moved their proposal up to 18 credits instead of 15, the district has kind of agreed to our PDU limits, so if they can spend more time at the table today … actually making decisions, and, like: ‘Yes, moving on,’ that felt really good. ”

Inside the middle school, she said, attendance is really low — maybe less than half — and it’s “pretty calm. I wouldn’t say there’s high-quality learning going on, but the kids have been advocating for themselves to work on what they want to work on. I haven’t heard that there’s been any movies or games of that sort.”

“At the high school, most of the teachers are in the building, so I think most students are also in the building,” she said.

“Manual has a really tricky situation … if they don’t get their test scores up this year, then they’re closed, so there’s a little bit of an extra push for them.”

Heather Abreu, a second-year visual arts teacher at Colfax Elementary, is not striking.

“The first reason is my priorities to my family,” Abreu said.

She’s the primary source of income in her family, and they just bought a home.

“The second priority is to my students … I’m so grateful to be here with them,” she said, but “I agree with what teachers are standing for.”

Abreu said she’s the only full-time teacher showing up at Colfax Elementary, working with the part-timers and substitutes.

“I’m a little astonished with what they’ve sent us,” she said of the education materials. “We are facilitating learning … but we need trained teachers in the classroom … It’s difficult to say, yes, my students have met the academic standards we want for them. Not this week.

“This week has been a stressful, emotional week for week for everybody, both inside and out.”

DPS reported that as of noon Wednesday, teacher attendance was at 42 percent and student attendance was at 75 percent. Students received 21,477 breakfast meals and 5,539 students rode a school bus.

On Tuesday:

Denver Public Schools Superintendant Susana Cordova negotiates with Denver's teachers union at the Denver Public Library, Feb. 12, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Denver Public Schools Superintendant Susana Cordova negotiates with Denver's teachers union at the Denver Public Library, Feb. 12, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Negotiations went deep into Tuesday night, long after most of the raucous, chanting audience of teachers and supporters had gone home. Both sides sounded positive about the progress during the day, but the strike will continue on Wednesday as negotiations between the district and the union are set to resume at 10 a.m.

Crash course:

Need the high-level info on the strike? Among other things, teachers are upset about compensation — basically, they say they’re not getting paid enough, and that a pay structure once thought to be clever and focused on equity has turned out to be unpredictable and ineffective. The district agrees on some points, but not others, and talks broke down dramatically over the weekend.

The New York Times just packaged it up for a national audience. Start here.

So what now? How many kids are showing up?  How many teachers are actually striking? How are schools handling the kids who’ve shown up without anybody to teach them? Chalkbeat has 10 things to watch today, plus context.

The question people always ask: But isn’t marijuana money supposed to be fixing this? No. Here’s a recent Denver Post story about where that money goes.

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