Teachers in Denver, Colorado, walked out of their classrooms on Monday after failing to reach a deal with administrators on pay.
The educator’s strike, the first in the city in 25 years, in the latest example of educator discontent, following a wave of walkouts over the last year.
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Denver’s school district said schools will remain open during the strike as more than 2,000 educators walk out, local media reported. Instead, classes will be staffed by administrators and substitute teachers.
However, the district has cancelled classes for 5,000 preschool children because it does not have the staff to take care of them.
The strike follows more than a year of negotiations over wages, the Denver Post reported.
Teachers started picketing before the start of the school day and students crossed through the picket lines on their way to class in some locations. Before noon, students were also filmed picketing alongside their teachers in support.
At a press conference on Monday morning, union leaders expressed frustration at failed talks to reach a deal over the weekend.
Union president Henry Roman said teachers were committed to reaching a deal but said that both sides needed a cooling off period.
Another negotiation session is expected on Tuesday.
“They need us. They need our labour, they need our minds, they need our talents to really make it happen,” lead union negotiator Rob Gould said.
As a product of the Denver Public School System, I support Denver teachers going on strike.
— Tuhina Verma Rasche (@tvrasche) February 11, 2019
The main sticking points in the talks over a contract governing Denver’s incentive pay system, which started over a year ago, are lowering bonuses to put more money in teachers’ base pay and how to allow teachers to advance in pay based on education and training, as followed by most school districts.
The union pushed for lower bonuses for high-poverty and high-priority schools to free up more money for overall teacher pay and criticised the district for spending too much money on administration.
However, the district sees those particular bonuses as key to boosting the academic performance of poor and minority students.
Wave of teacher strikes
The strike is the latest action in a wave of teacher activism since last spring, when teachers went on strike in West Virginia. Similar strikes and protests have occurred in Kentucky, Oklahoma and Arizona.
Last month, teachers in Los Angeles, California walked out of their classrooms for several days.
The Los Angeles teachers ended up getting the same six percent raise offered early on by the nation’s second-largest school district. However, they also sought and won promises for smaller class sizes and adding more nurses and counsellors.
In Denver, teachers say that the non-traditional pay system in the district leads to high turnover, which they say hurts students.
They also hope that a win on pay will help them when it comes time to negotiate other issues when their overall contract expires in two years.
The state says a walkout will cost about $400,000 a day and would eat up one or two percent of the district’s annual operating budget in about a week.
In encouraging both sides to come to an agreement, Colorado Governor Jared Polis has pointed out that this money will no longer be available to help pay teachers once it is spent on the strike.
Although teachers in some states are barred from striking, teachers in Colorado have a right to walk off the job.
As required by state law, teachers gave notice last month that they planned to strike. But the walkout was put on hold because the school district asked the state to intervene.
The strike was on again after Polis, a Democrat, decided on Wednesday not to get involved, believing the positions of both sides were not that far apart.
However, Polis said the state could decide to intervene and suspend the strike for up to 180 days, if a walkout dragged on.
The state does not have the power to impose any deal on either side, but it can try to help the union and school district reach a deal and can require them to participate in a fact-finding process.
According to an email sent to parents, students at Denver Discovery School were told not to bring their backpacks, binders, or anything of value to school during the strike, the Denver Post reported. Students’ mobile phones would be collected at the start of the day and returned at the end of the day.