DENVER — On Saturday, Denver Public Schools teachers began voting on whether to strike after the teachers union and the school district were unable to reach an agreement on teacher pay Friday.
DPS and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association negotiated for 10 hours Friday before the contract expired at midnight. Teachers voted Saturday and will continue voting Tuesday on whether to strike for the first time since 1994. The first possible day to strike would be Jan. 28.
“We want and need our teachers in our classrooms,” said DPS Superintendent Susana Cordova. “We hope the union will continue negotiations so we can reach an agreement that shows how much we value our educators.”
“It is very disappointing,” said DCTA president Henry Roman. “We fully committed to negotiations for more than a year with a goal of keeping more of our talented and dedicated teachers in the district.”
The DCTA has a long list of things it wants, including salary increases and incentives for training. DPS had offered a 10-percent average increase to base salaries and an additional $26.5 million in total compensation, which is $8 million short of what DCTA is asking for.
“It’s really hard to last in a career where you don’t feel valued and where you feel like you’re being taken advantage of, so we’re trying to remedy that now,” said Tiffany Choi, a French teacher at East High School.
Hundreds of teachers flooded Riverside Baptist Church Saturday morning to express the same opinion and vote to strike, saying they have felt disrespected by DPS in the months of negotiations.
Teachers have concerns about the cost of living in the Denver metro area compared to the pay.
“Our students deserve quality teachers and teachers are leaving Denver for better pay in neighboring districts,” one teacher said.
Superintendent Cordova pointed out in a news conference Saturday at school district headquarters that the district’s current proposal would give DPS teachers the highest lifetime earning potential in the metro area, but several teachers say they can’t afford to invest that much time in the district with the cost of living.
In a statement, Cordova said she wishes DPS could pay teachers more, but a lack of funding limits what the district can do.
“The fact is, Colorado is a wealthy state that doesn’t fund our schools very well, and we know that we need to work arm-in-arm with our educators to fix this state issue,” Cordova said.
If teachers vote to strike, Cordova says substitute teachers will take over, and the district will pay them double their normal earnings. Teachers will not be paid during the strike.
One teacher at Saturday’s strike vote says she voted no on the strike because she works with special needs students and doesn’t think substitute teachers will make the cut.
“I think the difference in the two salary schedules isn’t enough to put our students and families behind by a couple days,” she said.
Representatives from DCTA say they will wait until after the vote closes on Tuesday at 9 p.m. to decide when to come back to the bargaining table.