Negotiations fail; DPS teacher strike set for Monday

DENVER -- Teachers with Denver Public Schools will strike beginning Monday after negotiations between the teachers union and the school district failed Saturday night.

The union representing teachers, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, had been negotiating with DPS for months. Discussions escalated in January, when the pay agreement between the union and district expired.

On Jan. 22, the DCTA voted overwhelmingly in favor of a strike.

The union was seeking increased pay and a decrease on teachers' reliance on one-time bonuses. The first major offer from DPS included a 10-percent increase in base pay. However, the DCTA said the offer did not go far enough.

On Wednesday, the state declined to intervene in the negotiations, clearing the way for a strike.

On Saturday, Superintendent Susana Cordova put forward a new plan with $23 million in new funding for teachers, which is $2.5 million more than the previous offer, but $5.5 million shy of what the DCTA wanted.

Cordova said she would be cutting approximately 150 positions from the DPS central office, which is equivalent to roughly $20 million. She also committed to eliminating performance-based bonuses for central office employees. Both of those plans received applause from teachers attending the negotiations.

Codova said the eliminated central office positions would not include maintenance and facilities workers.

DPS also bumped its initial offer of a 10-percent increase in base pay to a 10.9-percent increase. However, some teachers said that figure should be higher, as they believed too much of the new funding was going toward incentives.

Additionally, Cordova said the district's new language for continuing education credits would be similar to that of the nearby Boulder Valley School District. Credits would have rolled over for three years and could have then been applied to lane movement. Moreover, professional development units (PDUs) would now be called professional development credits.

Retention bonuses for high-priority schools would jump from $2,500 to $3,000. The DCTA argued for eliminating such incentives and putting that money toward base pay.

Following the new DPS offer, the DCTA came up with a counter. After briefly discussing it, a DCTA leader said that the union would not be discussing the matter further and the strike was on for Monday. The union said it would resume discussions with DPS on Tuesday. Union leaders and teachers then walked out of negotiations.

In a statement, the DCTA said it was disappointed that DPS planned to raise incentives in its latest offer.

"Teachers were stunned when DPS proposed hiking incentives instead of putting that new money into base pay where it could make the entire district more competitive. We are incredibly disappointed that on the last day of bargaining and less than two days before a strike, they doubled down on one-time incentives teachers do not want, and the data shows do not work to keep teachers in their schools,” said Henry Roman, teacher and president of the DCTA in a the statement.

Meanwhile, DPS said via Twitter that it was listening to teachers' requests during the bargaining process.

"We presented an updated proposal that responds to what we have heard from teachers, aligns to our values of equity and retention, honors the ProComp ballot language and significantly increases the base pay for teachers," the DPS tweet read.

At a press conference Saturday night, Cordova said she plans to have all schools open Monday. However, early childhood education programs will be closed.

DPS said it wants to continue negotiating Sunday. However, the DCTA has given no indication that it plans to participate until Tuesday.

The strike is the first in the school district since 1994.

DPS is the largest school district in Colorado. In 2016, it enrolled about 92,000 students. It employs roughly 5,600 teachers.

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