Slideshow: Denver Teachers Go On Strike After Failing To Reach Pay Deal

Feb 11, 2019

Updated at 3:30 p.m.

Denver teachers rallied at the state Capitol at 2 p.m. after going on strike over failed pay negotiations.

The Denver Public Schools district has proposed raising starting teacher pay from $43,255 to $45,500 a year. That's $300 a year less than the union's proposal, which would add $50 million a year to teacher base pay, according to union officials.

"It's just so unfair that our teachers don’t make a living wage to live where they work," said parent Stefani Bender-Przybylski, who was with her son, Graysen, at the Capitol rally.

The head of the National Education Association, the country's largest teachers union, is telling striking Denver teachers they will prevail in their fight for better pay.

Lily Eskelsen Garcia told several thousand rallying teachers and supporters at the state Capitol that theirs is the latest in a struggle that's included teacher actions in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona and, most recently, Los Angeles.

Updated at 12:15 p.m.

The superintendent of Denver schools says talks over a pay dispute that led to a teacher strike will resume Tuesday.

Susana Cordova said she saw a range of effects at schools when teachers went on strike Monday.

Schools remained open Monday and district officials have said administrators and substitute teachers will staff them.

Cordova said students at schools she visited were working in classrooms, overseen by adults. She acknowledged reports of students dancing and chanting in the hallways of one high school before walking out.

She said district officials reported that the school was calm by early afternoon.

Cordova says the district will review that plan for individual schools each day. She says she is hopeful the district and teachers union can come to an agreement quickly.

Updated at 11:05 a.m.

Denver teachers are getting public support as they begin a strike for higher pay that is less reliant on bonuses.

After picketing outside schools Monday, hundreds of teachers joined members of other unions and at least some students for a march that took them down busy streets and past City Hall.

Police held traffic as the group crossed intersections.

Many drivers honked in support and used their cellphones to capture the moment. Onlookers also watched from nearby offices or the sidewalk.

According to the district, more than 2,100 of about 4,000 teachers had called in absent Monday.

Updated at 10:10 a.m.

A leading Colorado lawmaker says Denver's teachers strike underscores the need to boost funding of public schools across the state.

House Majority Leader Alec Garnett said Monday lawmakers must find a way to fix conflicting laws that restrict state K-12 spending by hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

The Democrat also says school districts must do a better job at ensuring tax dollars go to the classroom and not administrative overhead.

Garnett says he met with both sides over the weekend and that they were "super-close" to a deal.

The original story continues below.

Denver teachers went on strike Monday after failing to reach a deal with administrators on pay in the latest example of educator discontent, following a wave of walkouts over the last year.

Denver's 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. Students in at least one school walked out of class and demonstrated in support of their teachers.

The city's schools will remain open during the strike and will be staffed by administrators and substitute teachers, the school district said. But canceled classes for 5,000 preschool children were canceled because the district does not have the staff to take care of them.

Union leaders told reporters they were frustrated with failed talks over the weekend aimed at reaching a deal. 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 Tuesday.

"They need us. They need our labor, they need our minds, they need our talents to really make it happen," lead union negotiator Rob Gould said.

The strike for Denver's more than 4,000 teachers is their first in 25 years. It comes after teachers walked off the job in Arizona and West Virginia last year and Los Angeles teachers went on strike last month.

The Los Angeles teachers ended up getting the same 6 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 counselors.

In Denver, the main sticking points in the talks over a contract governing an incentive pay system 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, the norm in 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 criticized 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.

Some teachers argue that spending money on smaller class sizes and adding support staff, like counselors, is the best way to help disadvantaged students learn and make them good schools for teachers to work 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 consume 1 to 2 percent of the district's annual operating budget in about a week. In encouraging both sides to come to an agreement, Gov. Jared Polis has pointed out that this money will no longer be available to help pay teachers once it is spent on the strike.

While teachers in some states are barred from striking, teachers in Colorado have a qualified 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 the administration of Polis, a Democrat, decided last week not 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 the walkout drags 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 participate in a fact-finding process.

Copyright 2019 Associated Press. All rights reserved.