Denver Teachers Go on Strike
With many teachers being pushed into poverty, they are striking over a failed bonus system
Teachers in the Mile High City have walked off the job Monday after failing to reach a contract agreement. Teachers have been fighting for a raise in base pay and less money being used for performance and location bonuses that have depressed overall salaries.
The issue at the heart of the disagreement is Denver’s pay system. Instead of a base salary with yearly raises, the district piloted a system called Professional Compensation System for Teachers, known by most as ProComp. This pays bonuses to teachers who take positions at low income, low performing schools or for those that teach subjects that the district is having a hard time finding qualified teachers for. While it sounds like a good program meant to reward teachers for working hard, the reality is that it has become an onerous process with complicated requirements. Some of the bonuses would even disappear without notice or shrink. Teachers say this has made it extremely difficult to plan their finances and has led to high turnover.
According to a statement from the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA), the union spent the weekend negotiating with the district, but they kept bringing proposals that exacerbated the situation instead of fixing it.
“Teachers were stunned when DPS proposed hiking incentives instead of putting that new money into base pay where it could make the entire district more competitive. We are incredibly disappointed that on the last day of bargaining and less than two days before a strike, they doubled down on one-time incentives teachers do not want, and the data shows do not work to keep teachers in their schools,” said Henry Roman, teacher, and president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association. “The bizarre proposal proves what we have said during this entire process, that DPS is not interested in listening to the concerns and needs of its teachers and special service providers. We will strike Monday for our students and for our profession, and perhaps then DPS will get the message and return to the bargaining table with a serious proposal aimed at solving the teacher turnover crisis in Denver.”
With the teachers on strike, the district hired 300 scab teachers to assist their usual 1,200 substitutes, although some subs like Aleeya Wilson made the decision not to cross a picket line.
I’ve needed a job since yesterday, and I could have easily been a substitute with Denver Public Schools. However, I support teachers and their right to a living wage, so I decided not to cross the picket lines today. #RedforEd #DenverTeacherStrike
— Aleeya Wilson (@awils165) February 11, 2019
This allowed the district to keep schools open, but students in at least one school decided to join their teachers on the picket line instead of being taught by a scab. Like during the Los Angeles strike, students who attended school on Monday were put in classes that averaged 50 students per class. The district also announced that teachers would be confiscating students cell phones on Monday to prevent photos of the overcrowded classes from going viral like they did in LA.
The strike is the first teacher's job action in 25 years. Teacher strikes are legal in Colorado, unlike in some states like New York. In an effort to stop the strike, the DPS threatened non-citizens with possible deportation if they went on strike. Thanks to pressure from the 5,635 members of DCTA, the district backed off of this threat a few days after the threat was made.
The union will have teachers picketing outside the schools, with temperatures in the teens and snow on the ground, until a contract agreement is reached. Teachers will also be manning community food banks to help aid families who are affected by the strike.