The Denver teachers union walked out of negotiations at a raucous bargaining session Thursday night.
The rejection of the school district’s latest offer comes after 14 months of contentious negotiations to overhaul the district’s pay and teacher incentive system.
The move brings teachers one step closer to a strike that teachers voted overwhelmingly for. The walkout is on hold as the state decides to intervene at Denver Public School’s request. A decision on intervention is expected by Feb. 11.
The district’s latest proposal includes $3 million more in teacher compensation for the 2021-2012 school year and the promise of two future cost of living increases through the 2021-22 school year. The district places their total proposal for salary increases at more than $50 million over three years.
To pay for it, district officials committed to cutting $10.5 million from central administration, which DPS Chief Financial Officer Mark Ferrandino said amounts to about 100 jobs. Negotiators are also counting on another $10 million from Gov. Jared Polis’ proposed budget.
For union negotiators, the promise of more money in the future wasn’t what they were looking for.
“After several years of broken promises, we’re not willing to accept an I.O.U.,” said Denver Classroom Teachers Association president Henry Roman.
Instead, union negotiators want new money for teachers this year, more structural changes in the salary schedule, more money into base pay instead of incentives and the opportunity to use professional development units for salary advancement.
Negotiations originally broke down Jan. 18 and teachers returned to the bargaining table Thursday after the DCTA reached out and the district said it had a new proposal.
Almost immediately after Superintendent Susana Cordova presented the latest offer, union officials retreated to caucus in private for half an hour. They returned to a room packed with teachers in red shirts chanting, “If they don’t pay us, shut it down!” and “what do we want? Fair pay. When do we want it? Yesterday!”
Denver Classroom Teachers Association lead negotiator Rob Gould turned to the teachers and said: “They didn’t bring us a proposal tonight, they brought a small IOU.” The update prompted teachers to launch into a spontaneous rendition of Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna To Take It.”
When district negotiators returned, it was clear the talks were over. Gould accused Cordova of not listening, reminding her that teachers last week overwhelmingly voted to strike.
“From this day forward, you will have no choice but to listen.”
Cordova told reporters afterward she is listening. She said the district’s proposal on Jan. 18 made adjustments to structure as DCTA requested, referring to adding more ways for teachers to advance in salary, such when a teacher accrues a Bachelor’s degree plus 20 credits and a Master’s degree plus 30 credits. She said DPS has responded twice with offers of more money.
“I am disappointed that the DCTA did not engage in the discussion or bring a counter proposal,” she said. “We came committed to negotiating, and had anticipated we would have the opportunity to share additional ideas with DCTA about the structure of the new system.”
Cordova acknowledged there are significant differences between the two sides: how teachers advance in the salary schedule and how much incentive pay is shifted into base salaries.
“Negotiating is about sharing proposals,” she said. “It’s about putting ideas on the table. It’s about reacting to those ideas and exchanging back and forth.”
In a press release, DCTA officials say they’re committed to bargaining “when DPS is ready to come back to the table with a thoughtful proposal aimed at reversing the massive teacher turnover our students suffer from year after year.”