Denver teachers strike and win

Feb. 14 — After 15 months of negotiation, including an intense 20-hour session lasting throughout last night, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association ended its three-day strike against the Denver Public Schools. The teachers’ union won most of its demands.

The agreement will improve the life and longevity of teachers here in Denver. “They will know what they will be paid and have a fair salary schedule and pay system, something that is clear and understandable. Starting salary will be at $45,800, and there will be an 11 percent pay increase across the board,” said DCTA chief negotiator Ray Gould in a Channel 7 News interview this morning.

In addition to increasing salaries, there will be a 20-step salary schedule that starts at $45,800 and tops out at $100,000 for teachers with 20-years experience and a Ph.D. There are also full cost-of-living increases in the second and third years of the agreement. Teachers will be able to use professional development units, which are free in-district courses to advance teacher education, to move up the levels in the salary schedule.

In addition, there will be an end to bonuses for senior administrators. However, some bonuses will remain to provide incentives in high priority schools and hard to fill positions in Title I schools and in 10 distinguished schools, as well as for tuition reimbursement.

DCTA was willing to continue the policy of giving bonuses to teachers who work in schools with high poverty rates. The Denver taxes used for that bonus, however, are not the only supports available for teachers. Smaller class size and increased access to mental health care are also available. DCTA agreed to decrease bonuses from $2,500 to $2,250, which freed up money to provide across-the-board pay increases.

The agreement prevented a fourth day of the walkout that started Feb. 11. More than 2,000 educators still have to ratify the 3-year contract within the next few weeks.

Support from community and students

The community and students have been very supportive of the teachers. Students sent videos and photographs to local media showing students acting unruly and being sent in large groups to auditoriums to watch movies or walking out due to poor supervision. When school authorities tried to prevent students from filming, the ACLU of Colorado stepped in to defend the students’ constitutional rights.

All preschool classes were closed, affecting 4,700 children. Three-fourths of other students showed up for class, but only one fourth of the teachers. It was clear that the students were not learning their usual subjects.

The use of substitutes at double pay and 1,400 central office staff — under threat of being fired if they did not cross the picket line — created an untenable situation. Susana Cordova, who is the new superintendent of Denver schools, was under a lot of pressure to reach an agreement. Cordova stated that there will be cuts of 150 high-salary staff in the bloated central administrative office to free up money to increase teacher salaries.

As announced this morning on Valentine’s Day, the agreement made the teachers’ 15-month ordeal even sweeter. This strike victory has received national attention from teachers in other low-paying districts. The Denver teachers have shown that marching is not enough, but striking can win.

Teachers all over the country have been protesting by marching against low pay and increased responsibilities. They have struck in Los Angeles and now Denver and made gains in both cities.

Many school systems around the country have had funding cuts over the years since the 2008 recession. The national government doesn’t treat education as a priority, instead using tax revenues to pay for continuous wars and expanding the military. Overburdened taxpayers have often voted down more money for their schools, even though they understand the importance of education for their children.

The teachers and their unions, with the support of the community and the students, are showing the way out of this swamp.

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