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Denver teachers go on strike for the first time in 25 years

Tuesday, February 12th, 2019

Thousands of teachers from Denver Public Schools gathered at the state Capitol Monday to kick off their first strike in 25 years, demanding pay increases and a long-term solution to the state’s ongoing problem of underfunding schools.

The strike, which is led by the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA), will affect more than 200 schools in the district. Administrators plan to keep schools open by hiring substitute teachers, though pre-school classes have been cancelled. Depending on how long the strike goes on, school officials have acknowledged that they may have to close some schools if they are unable to hire enough substitutes.

Educators voted to strike last month after disagreements with school administrators over pay. As ThinkProgress previously reported, the major dispute is over a merit-based compensation system called “ProComp,” which began in 2005. It gives teachers one-time incentives beyond their base salaries as a reward for working in hard-to-staff positions or to teach in schools where students perform well on state tests.

The union, however, has pushed for a more traditional approach to salary structure, calling for a system that allows all teachers to get raises and cost-of-living increases. During negotiations, the district was $8 million short of what the union asked for to overhaul the compensation system. Teachers, meanwhile, argued that the district could reduce administrators’ bonuses and take money out of its reserve to pay for it.

At a press conference Monday, DCTA’s lead negotiator Rob Gould said he hopes school administrators “come to the table tomorrow ready to listen so we can get back to work cause our teachers want to be in the classrooms with their kids.”

While educators were on strike, students at East High School in Denver took to the halls Monday morning in a show of support for their teachers. Video shared on Twitter showed students chanting, “Pay our teachers!”

Colorado is one of the worst offenders when it comes to public school funding. According to Education Week’s 2018 state-by-state assessment of public education, the state earned a D-plus for overall school finance. Colorado received an F for its spending on public education.

A key reason for this is that Colorado legislators can reduce school funding in order to balance the budget, using a tool called “negative factor.” Over the years, lawmakers have trimmed billions of dollars in funding to rural schools, schools serving at-risk students, and those serving populations with a high cost of living. As the Coloradoan reported in 2017, Colorado spends an average of $9,471 on each public school student, $2,685 less than the national average.

Denver is the latest city where teachers have gone on strike to demand better pay and funding for schools. Last year, weeks-long strikes in red states like West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona led to pay increases and more money. Los Angeles teachers recently ended a weeklong strike, after achieving several of their demands, including a 50 percent reduction in standardized testing and smaller class sizes.

This article was originally published in ThinkProgress on February 11, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Elham Khatami is an associate editor at ThinkProgress. Previously, she worked as a grassroots organizer within the Iranian-American community. She also served as research manager, editor, and reporter during her five-year career at CQ Roll Call. Elham earned her Master of Arts in Global Communication at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs and her bachelor’s degree in writing and political science at the University of Pittsburgh.

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