Feb. 11 — Two weeks ago, Denver teachers, through their union, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA), voted 93 percent in favor of striking against the city’s public school administration, Denver Public Schools. This first strike vote by teachers in 25 years showed they have reached a breaking point.
The teachers’ demands include an across-the-board increase in salary and starting pay instead of intermittent bonuses. This would affect classroom teachers, school nurses and psychologists. They are also asking for increased pay for professional development points when they complete special courses. They questioned the need for costly and bloated DPS administrative staff, which carries the highest ratio of administrators to teachers of any city in Colorado.
The teachers emphasize they are at a breaking point financially and emotionally. Most work 60 hours a week, and many have had to take second jobs just to survive. Many cannot afford to live in expensive Denver where they teach and have had to leave the district to obtain higher salaries in surrounding areas.
The bonus system is unpredictable. The DPS administration uses bonuses to recruit teachers on a one-time basis for underfunded schools with at-risk students rather than increasing support and funding for these schools. This practice does not help retain teachers, who end up leaving because of lack of libraries and other necessary resources.
Students support teachers’ strike
Students from Denver East High School have supported the striking teachers by sending letters to state agencies, sitting in on bargaining sessions and actually producing a video challenging administrative excess. The students asked why there are 38 “executive managers” in DPS, each making over $136,000 a year while teachers earn a fraction of that, and noted many teachers have not had a raise in 10 years.
The Denver Post reported Feb. 8 that the superintendent of schools, Susana Cordova, sent letters to parents saying the schools would remain open except for the early childhood development program, which would affect 4,700 students.
Cordova announced plans to use 1,200 regular substitute teachers, plus another 300 newly hired substitute teachers at double pay. She also plans to use 1,400 employees who work in the DPS central administrative office. This will cost over $400,000 a day for substitute teachers and curriculum.
Cordova threatened administrative employees with firing if any should refuse to cross the picket line.
When negotiations between the union and the administration broke down Feb. 9 after many hours, the teachers announced they would walk out Feb. 11. DCTA President Henry Roman said, “We will strike for our students and for our profession.”
The strike will affect 5,300 teachers and 71,000 students in the Denver Public School system.
On the morning of Feb. 11, before 7 a.m., 2,100 teachers had called in sick, according to local Channel 7 news. Picket lines were forming around most schools in Denver.
Lead negotiator for the DCTA Rob Gould stated in an early morning interview, “The [Denver Public Schools] need our minds, our labor and our talent. The base salary for a Denver teacher is $7,000 to $15,000 less than in surrounding districts. Teachers cannot afford to live where they teach and 20 percent leave every year.”
More than one teacher on the picket line said the strike was for survival. Students heading into class were asked if students overall supported the teachers; they responded, “I sure hope so!”
A local Fox News video from about 10 a.m. showed students inside Denver East High School cheering and dancing in the hallways to celebrate their teachers picketing outside. The video then showed the students walking out in support of their teachers.