Denver teachers strike to continue for third day as marathon negotiations show “pathway forward”

The two sides returned to the bargaining table on Day 2 of the city’s first teachers strike since 1994

Denver Public School teachers on strike, students and supporters leave Civic Center Park to march to the Denver Public Library on February 12, 2019, in Denver, Colorado.

Denver’s teachers strike will continue for a third day after union and district negotiators spent more than 12 hours in a marathon bargaining session Tuesday that seemed to show progress toward crafting a new compensation deal for the city’s educators.

Denver Public Schools Superintendent Susana Cordova ended the negotiations at the downtown library around 11 p.m., saying she was pleased with the headway made toward ending the walkout. The few remaining teachers in the room clapped.

“We can certainly see a pathway forward,” Cordova said.

Rob Gould, lead negotiator for the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, concurred.

“The strike continues and school continues, and we’re going to work really hard to get this done as soon as possible,” Gould said.

The two sides agreed to resume negotiations with fresh eyes at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

Just after midnight, Cordova and Henry Roman, the union’s president, issued a joint statement saying the two sides had “worked in good faith to find common ground.”

“We exchanged proposals that are moving us closer and are hopeful that we will get to an agreement soon,” they said. “However, we need a little more time to resolve the outstanding issues.”

Not satisfied with DPS’s incentive-based compensation system, Denver’s teachers union is looking to secure better and more reliable pay increases — rather than bonuses — as educators advance through their careers.

Even prior to Tuesday’s resumption of bargaining, the two sides had reached a point where they’re both proposing the same starting base salary for teachers: $45,800 a year. But other areas of contention remain, namely DPS’s reliance on bonuses tied to working in high-poverty schools or student achievement.

“Can’t have our cake and eat it, too?

In contrast to the dramatic ending that left district officials and teachers in tears Saturday night, Tuesday’s bargaining over teacher pay appeared more productive from the start, with both sides finding areas of agreement within each other’s latest offers.

Yet gaps in understanding remained.

Gould at one point critiqued an aspect of one of the district’s proposals, asking Cordova: “You’re saying we can’t have our cake and eat it, too?”

Cordova, noting the purpose of negotiations was to breathe new life into the contentious ProComp teacher-compensation system, responded: “I thought we were in the process of using new ingredients to create a different cake.”

The updated proposals floated by DPS and the teachers union Tuesday, and the two sides’ subsequent discussions, focused heavily on professional development units, which are free in-district courses offered to advance teachers’ education.

The union wants teachers to be paid for the number of PDUs they complete, while the district asked for “guardrails” to be in place so a pay system including professional development would be financially sustainable.

A sticking point for the union remained the district’s requirement to have educators work for 45 hours outside of the classroom to earn a PDU. The union said existing rules allow teachers to count the work they do in school toward those courses.

“Teachers work way more than a 40-hour work week, and we don’t want to require anything beyond that,” Gould said.

Cordova said she understood that existing rules allowed teachers to complete their PDUs utilizing time during their workday but that the purpose of negotiating was to find new, improved ways to do things.

“We’re here today to dig in”

Much of the day, and night, was spent with an empty bargaining table as representatives from the union and district poured over each other’s proposals and made adjustments to their own in private.

One of the district’s proposals added another opportunity for educators to move across a pay scale, upping their salary based on things like college credit attainment, staying within DPS for 10 years, completing professional development units and prominent teacher certifications.

The night ended after the union returned to the bargaining table just before 11 p.m., offering a new proposal that included capping at three the number of PDUs a teacher can complete in a year. The union also changed the way its proposed salary schedule is crafted.

At that point, Gould suggested the negotiations resume on Wednesday. Cordova, citing “real progress,” agreed to call it a night.

Tuesday’s negotiations began around 10:30 a.m., following the first day of a teachers strike that saw more than 2,600 educators walk out of their classrooms in the name of fair wages.

“Our students are not receiving the kind of instruction right now we all believe is in their best interest,” Cordova said as the session began. “It’s critically important we’re here today to dig in, to get to agreement. I am 100 percent committed to getting there.”

Rachel Lewis, a Columbine Elementary School teacher who has been a steady attendee of the bargaining sessions, said that things really need to start moving to avert more strike days.

“We’re still talking about PDUs,” Lewis said. “There’s so much more to talk about. We’re probably not going to finish talking today, I would think.”

“Back in the classroom with my students”

As DPS and union officials spent Tuesday negotiating, teachers continued picketing at schools across Denver, and students at some area high schools walked out in support of their educators, too.

English teacher Jessica Perkins said she was back on the picket line at East High School for a second day because the kids in Denver deserve the best teachers available and higher pay attracts those teachers.

Ada Youngstrom, a freshman at North High School, helped organize a student sit-in and walkout at the school. After students walked around the park across the street, they returned to school. She estimated about 250 students walked out, and most went back to class.

The energy was high at East and North high schools on Tuesday — music blasted from speakers and people danced, teachers chanted slogans and sign-wavers watched cars honking in support as they passed by.

Brian Buddenhagen, a teacher at East High and a parent, said he was going to keep striking as long as necessary, a sentiment shared by many of the attendees.

But, as Bruce Randolph School teacher Candace Sell said, “I would like to be back in the classroom with my students as soon as possible.”



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