Denver union, authorities to reconvene as schools strike enters 2nd day

By Anne Rowe for DPS board, February 19, 2019

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) – Thousands of Denver public school instructors strolled picket lines for a 2nd day on Tuesday, interrupting classes for some 92,000 trainees as union and school district officials resumed contract talks that broke down over the weekend.

In the most current in a series of strikes to hit U.S. public school systems around the country, the 5,650-member Denver Class Educators Association is seeking higher pay with a wage structure focused less on efficiency rewards and more on cost-of-living boosts.

The Denver labor disagreement follows statewide instructor walkouts last year in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Arizona, and a six-day strike in Los Angeles settled last month with a deal to reduce class sizes and raise salaries by 6 percent.

Talks in Denver broke down on Saturday, triggering the very first walkout by teachers in Colorado’s largest city considering that 1994. The two sides returned to the bargaining table late on Tuesday early morning.

Outside Columbian Elementary school, a lots instructors picketed, including early youth education specialist Traci McKeehan, 48, who stated she was enthusiastic a deal would be reached with a more foreseeable pay structure. The union says the present system has led to broad private wage fluctuations from year to year, leading to higher rates of instructor turnover.

“In Denver, we’re losing teachers left and right,” said McKeehan, who was holding a sign that read, “We’d rather be teaching.”

The Denver Public Schools district has stated its latest proposal would raise teachers’ pay by almost 11 percent next year, while the union has actually called that figure pumped up.

On Monday, Public Schools Superintendent Susana Cordova told press reporters that the district has currently met lots of of the teachers’ demands for simplifying their complicated pay structure.

“We’ve made truly significant changes currently,” Cordova said. “Many of the things I believe that we hear our teachers grumble about, actually aren’t about the proposition that we’ve put on the table, it’s about the present system. And many of those things I concur with as well.”

District authorities vowed to keep all 207 schools open through the strike, staffed by replacement instructors and administration personnel. But on Tuesday the district said it canceled pre-kindergarten classes.

The so-called ProComp pay system at the core of the strike was at first welcomed by the union when it was instituted in 2005, promoted as a way of enabling instructors to develop their incomes through a mix of possible rewards. Those consist of rewards connected to student achievement and harder mentor assignments, such as schools in high-poverty locations.

But the union says ProComp, one of the longest-running instructor pay plans of its kind in the nation, has instead worn down instructor pay in a city where the cost of living has skyrocketed in the past 10 years.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock on Monday expressed assistance for the teachers’ pay demands and used to assistance mediate the disagreement.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver; Extra reporting by Jann Tracey in Denver and Gina Cherelus in New York; Composing and additional reporting by Peter Szekely in New York, Rich McKay in Atlanta and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by John Stonestreet and Matthew Lewis)