For the very first time in 25 years, teachers in Denver are expected to walk off the task. The instructors union and representatives of Denver Public Schools have actually been negotiating for more than a year.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Just weeks after a instructor strike in Los Angeles ended, instructors in Denver begin their own strike today. Denver is home to Colorado’s biggest school district, so it’s a big offer. Colorado Public Radio’s Jenny Brundin has actually been following the story. Good early morning.
JENNY BRUNDIN, BYLINE: Great morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: Talk me through what is happening in Denver today. The instructors are definitely not showing up for work?
BRUNDIN: Yeah, that’s right. It’s tough to know precisely how many, but we know for sure at least – about 2,400 have stated that they’re not going to program up today. There’s a total of about 5,000 teachers, however we’re not sure. But schools will be open except for preschool. 3 and 4 year olds – they require a higher level of licensing, so those schools are closed. And that impacts about 5,000 kids. And that’s left numerous working moms and dads in the stumble. And for older grades, the district has licensed about 1,700 main administration workers to staff the schools. And some high schools, we know, they’ve instructed all juniors, for example, to meet in the fitness center to research study. So clearly they put on’t have rather enough people to personnel all classes.
INSKEEP: OKAY, so not a lot of guideline going on but supervision. If your kid needs somewhere to be and you’re in Denver, the schools will be open. What is driving the teachers to walk out?
BRUNDIN: Yeah, it’s a little bit different from Los Angeles. Here, it’s a little bit more wonky. A huge sticking point in the settlements are things called rewards. And back in 2005, Denver Public Schools was the first large metropolitan school district in the nation to adopt an reward pay system. In fact, voters put this into place. And it lets teachers get several rewards to motivate them to take things like hard-to-staff positions for mathematics or work in a high-poverty school. But over the years, it ended up being really made complex and unforeseeable. Some of the rewards would suddenly disappear or shrink. And teachers state that makes it actually hard to plan or even pay rent. In interviews with about 40 instructors I did, not one could inform me precisely how much they made.
BRUNDIN: On top – yeah. On top of that, you have – you know, Denver housing prices have escalated. And I spoke with a teacher Ashley Nance. She can’t afford to live and teach here.
INSKEEP: Let’s hear her.
ASHLEY NANCE: I have my master’s degree in academic psychology, and I’m really having a hard time to make my loan payments in addition to the increasing cost of rent in Denver. I have a roommate at 32 and kind of – I’m constantly looking for other methods to make money on the side. What’s hard is with the district’s pay, you get stuck. When you have a master’s degree, the only way to relocation forward is with extra courses which, at this point, I just can not pay for to take.
INSKEEP: Oh, so this reward system, which sounds like getting extra cash, has actually trapped people and, in some cases, left them feeling like they have less.
BRUNDIN: Exactly, Steve. So if she desired to move to another school that’s not as challenging, she generally can’t manage to live. And the other sticking point is they want – teachers here want to have a wage schedule that looks like other districts – that they can advance in pay like other districts do.
INSKEEP: Is it legal for instructors to go on strike in Colorado? ‘Cause I put on’t believe it is everywhere.
BRUNDIN: It is legal, yes, including public instructors – all public workers can strike. The state labor board has said that if things get too out of control or if it’s against the public interest, they will step in and stop this and shot to help come to a resolution.
INSKEEP: OK, Jenny Brundin is covering the story for Colorado Public Radio and for us as a teacher strike starts in Denver today. Jenny, thanks so much.
BRUNDIN: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF CANYONS OF STATIC’S “NEVER ALONE AGAIN”)
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