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Denver Teachers Begin Strike After More Than A Year Of Contract Negotiations

Feb 11, 2019
Originally published on February 11, 2019 11:07 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Teachers in Denver are striking over their pay. This after more than a year of contract negotiations with the school district. Jenny Brundin of Colorado Public Radio has been following this story. She's the education reporter there. And, Jenny, today was the first day of the strike. What was the school day like?

JENNY BRUNDIN, BYLINE: Well, all schools were open except for preschool. That's about 5,000 3- and 4-year-olds. The district said they didn't have the staff with that higher level of training that's needed for young kids. And for older kids, the district spent more than $130,000 on lesson plans for two days. Some high school students met in auditoriums. They were divided up into classrooms. At South High School, students walked out at 8 a.m., and they joined their teachers on the picket line.

At another high school, things were a little more chaotic. One student posted a video of students leaving classes and flooding into the hallways where a spontaneous dance party broke out. Several students told me administrators tried to get students to go back to class, but when that failed, they said the kids could leave school, and several did. The district disputes that claim, though.

CORNISH: When it comes to the negotiations, as we mentioned, salary's the sticking point, and, specifically, the district's current system of pay incentives. What more can you tell us about that?

BRUNDIN: Denver has an unusual pay system that doesn't really look like other districts. They get bonuses for working in hard-to-staff positions, like math, for example, or teaching in a high-poverty school. But teachers say those bonuses weren't reliable. And sometimes, the incentives would disappear or shrink in size suddenly. And that's led to high turnover in the district. High school teacher Rebecca Basgal told me that can take a toll on students.

REBECCA BASGAL: I was the first - I'm sorry. I'm going to cry. I was the first math teacher that stayed with them an entire year since their fifth-grade year. And kids don't deserve that.

BRUNDIN: As you can see, this is a really emotional time for a lot of teachers. They've been at this negotiation for 15 months, and they're really kind of fed up at this point.

CORNISH: Now, going forward, the two sides are supposed to go back to the bargaining table, right? That's supposed to happen tomorrow. Where do things stand?

BRUNDIN: Teachers want the district to put less money into incentives and more money into raising teacher salaries. The district says their latest proposal gives teachers an 11 percent pay raise for next year, although the union contests that number. But the district isn't ready to do away with incentives. Here's Superintendent Susana Cordova.

SUSANA CORDOVA: We added more money, an increased emphasis on our students in the highest-priority schools based on our deep, deep belief around equity and to help incentivize teachers to work in the schools that need them the most.

BRUNDIN: The two sides also disagree with how teachers can advance in their salaries. The union wants a reliable salary schedule where teachers can get pay bumps for professional development. And the district is worried costs would really skyrocket under that model.

CORNISH: That's Colorado Public Radio's Jenny Brundin. Jenny, thank you for your reporting.

BRUNDIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.