Denver Public Schools and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association have been negotiating for more than a year against a backdrop of widespread protests over teacher pay.
Now, the union is inching toward a strike.
The issues at play are narrower than they are in Los Angeles, where teachers are striking over pay but also class sizes and school resources. In Denver, the union and district agreed on a general contract last year. Now, the sides are focused on the district’s complicated pay-for-performance system, with the union pushing for higher salaries and more opportunities for raises.
The union says it will call for a strike vote on Saturday if a new agreement can’t be reached.
In the meantime, negotiations in Denver are particularly interesting because state law requires bargaining to happen in public. If you’re just getting caught up, or want to tune in as the back-and-forth continues, here’s what you should know.
When are the union and district set to negotiate, and how can I watch?
There are two more sessions on the schedule:
- Thursday, Jan. 17, 9 a.m.-9 p.m.
- Friday, Jan. 18, 9 a.m.-9 p.m.
Both sessions will take place at the Acoma Campus, at 1617 S. Acoma St., and are open to the public.
You can also watch online. The district often livestreams the negotiations — here’s where you can find them. It doesn’t always, because doing so takes staff time.
If the district isn’t livestreaming, the union will set up a Facebook Live with a cell phone and a tripod, but it will be of lower quality. Here’s the union’s Facebook page.
If you don’t see anything in either place, it probably means the two sides are caucusing, or meeting in private. Those meetings aren’t streamed.
If you tune in, you’ll see members of both negotiating teams. The union’s team includes Pam Shamburg, Denver Classroom Teachers Association’s executive director; Corey Kern, DCTA’s deputy executive director; Henry Roman, DCTA’s president; Rob Gould, a Denver teacher; and several other teachers.
The district’s negotiation team includes Mark Ferrandino, chief financial officer; Susana Cordova, superintendent; and Michelle Berge, general counsel.
What are the union and district at odds over?
The two sides are negotiating the contract that governs the district’s complex pay-for-performance system, known as ProComp.
Denver teachers have long said the pay-for-performance system is too complicated and unpredictable. It pays teachers a base salary and allows them to earn bonuses and incentives for things like high student test scores or working in a hard-to-fill position.
But giving up the incentives altogether would mean giving up tax money raised specifically for teacher salaries. In 2005, Denver voters passed a tax increase to fund ProComp, and the ballot language was specific about how the tax revenue would be used, including to pay teachers for things like working in hard-to-fill positions, increasing their teaching skills, and earning positive evaluations. District officials project the tax will raise $33 million next year.
Where do things stand?
The timing: The current agreement is set to expire Friday, and union leaders have said they will call for a strike vote on Saturday if a new agreement cannot be reached.
The Denver Classroom Teachers Association informed the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment on Jan. 8 of its intent to strike. A union must give the state 20 days notice, which means the earliest a strike could start would be Jan. 28.
The basics: The biggest sticking point is money. Buoyed by widespread protests over teacher pay in Colorado and other states, the Denver union has asked the district to invest about $30 million more of its $1 billion budget into teacher compensation.
The district’s offer as of Jan. 11 would invest $23 million more into teacher pay. District officials have said some of that money will come from increased state funding, but $7 million would come from cuts to the district’s central office, where many administrators work.
The salary schedule: The union has proposed returning to a more traditional salary schedule. The maximum base salary would be $100,000, which a teacher with a doctorate could earn after 20 years of positive evaluations.
After offering less than that for months, the district’s Jan. 11 proposal matched that $100,000 maximum base salary. Earning it would require a teacher with a doctorate to have 30 years of positive evaluations.
The base salary for a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree on the district’s schedule as of Jan. 11 would be $45,500. The union’s schedule would start at $45,000.
The union’s salary schedule differs from the one the district has proposed in one major way: it has more “lanes,” which allow teachers to get raises more frequently.
The “lanes” represent a teacher’s education level. The salary schedule also has “steps,” which represent a teacher’s years of satisfactory evaluations.
The union’s proposed salary schedule has nine “lanes” and 20 “steps.” The district’s Jan. 11 offer has only six “lanes” but 30 “steps.” In the union’s view, the district’s offer doesn’t give teachers enough of a salary boost for furthering their own education.
The district’s proposal is an attempt to diversify the ways teachers can get a pay raise. Teachers could move a lane by getting an advanced license or serving for 10 consecutive years, in addition to earning a higher degree or National Board certification.
Contract talks hit a sticking point Tuesday, with the union insisting the district embrace a salary table with its preferred structure for steps and lanes. Negotiations that were scheduled for all day ended before lunch as district negotiators regrouped. District officials say they want a counterproposal from the union, while the union says the ball is still in the district’s court.
About those bonuses: The district and the union also disagree on the size of the bonuses and incentives. The union favors larger base salaries and smaller incentives, with some as small as $1,000.
The district has proposed three different incentives at $2,500 each. One would be for teachers who work in high-poverty schools, where more than 60 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Another would be for teachers who work in hard-to-fill positions, such as special education and secondary math, and teachers who teach in Spanish.
The third $2,500 incentive would be in the form of a retention bonus for teachers who return to work at a set of 30 schools the district and the union deem “highest priority.”
About 72 percent of Denver teachers would qualify for one of the two $2,500 incentives, district officials said on Jan. 11. About 37 of those same teachers would qualify for both incentives.
A first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree who gets both incentives — say, a first-year special education teacher in a high-poverty school — could make $50,500 under the district’s proposal.
How did we get here?
Here is a timeline if you’re looking to dive even deeper.
- Jan. 16, 2019: Denver district, board members frame contract negotiations as debate over values
- Jan. 16, 2019: Why I won’t strike: Denver teachers in high-poverty schools, like me, deserve real bonuses
- Jan. 15, 2019: ‘The reckoning has come’: Denver teachers union takes hard line in negotiations
- Jan. 14, 2019: Denver teachers union poll shows strong support for a strike, even among parents
- Jan. 11, 2019: Some Denver teachers told us they’re ready to strike. Here’s why.
- Jan. 10, 2019: Denver teachers threaten a strike at month’s end, district plans to keep schools open
- Dec. 13, 2018: The Denver district has offered to raise teacher pay. Will it be enough to avert a strike?
- May 30, 2018: Against a backdrop of protests, teacher contract negotiations in Denver get heated
- March 15, 2018: Strike vote by Denver teachers no longer imminent due to contract extension
- March 14, 2018: Denver teachers union leaders vote to call for a strike vote if pay negotiations fail
- Nov. 29, 2017: Now up for negotiation: ProComp, Denver’s teacher pay-for-performance system
- Sept. 1, 2017: Denver school district, teachers union reach agreement on contract that includes $1,400 increase to base pay (This is when the union and district reached a deal on their master agreement, which also included pay raises. The ProComp negotiations are separate and started soon afterward.)
- April 20, 2016: Denver teachers confused, frustrated by parts of pay-for-performance system, report finds