After talks break off, Denver teachers set to strike Monday

The DCTA union, which represents most of Denver's teachers, said 93% of its members voted to authorize a strike.

It's the latest in a long line of teachers' strikes that spread across the country last year and keeps gaining momentum this year.

It was 16 degrees Monday morning in northeast Denver when almost 100 teachers assembled on the sidewalk outside the Denver Center for International Studies at Montbello campus.

"You can't bank anything on what you're going to make each year because they have these little bonuses that come and go", said Spanish teacher Kelsey Brown.

The strike for Denver's more than 4,000 teachers is their first in 25 years.

The so-called ProComp pay system at the crux of the strike was initially embraced by the union when it was instituted in 2005, touted as a way of enabling teachers to build their salaries through a mix of possible incentives.

"Offers our teachers an nearly 11-percent increase for next year and to hear the feedback and to be in a position that, rather than sticking with it and figuring out, I'm incredibly disappointed that they walked away", stated Susana Cordova, DPS superintendent.

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.

The school district and the union agreed on a starting salary of $45,800. Teachers are also subject to a draconian incentive system-co-designed by their own union-that ties pay to student performance, under conditions in which per-pupil funding in the state is 39th in the US. The city's school district gives bonuses ranging from $1,500 to $3,000 a year to teachers who work in schools with students from low-income families, in schools that are designated high priority or in positions that are considered hard to staff, such as special education or speech language pathology. In a clear attempt at intimidation, the DPS has warned that such absences will be marked as "unexcused" and therefore jeopardize student grades. Thousands of high school students also walked out of classes in solidarity with their teachers Monday.

It's now day two of the Denver teacher strike. So many students will have no clue when they'll see their teachers again. Over the past 15 months, teachers across the city's 160 schools have been demanding better pay but failed to reach an agreement with Gov. Jared Polis. Some students crossed picket lines to get to class as schools remained open with administrators and substitute teachers in classrooms. But when the school ran out of the schedules, chaos ensued.

The school district readied 300 new substitute teachers to supplement its existing roster of 1,200, NPR has reported.

Since teachers aren't getting paid while on strike, not every teacher who wants to strike can do so. "For me to lose out on $200 of pay a day, it does impact my bills for the month". During the rally at the state capitol building on Monday, Democratic politicians made photo op appearances, and NEA head Lily Eskelsen Garcia (salary $414,824) addressed the crowd with the usual appeals about voting for Democrats in the next elections.

"A strike is not a first resort for anyone".

The dispensary offered a similar promotion for military veterans on Veterans' Day in November, but couldn't do much for federal employees during the government shutdown - for obvious reasons, LaBrier says. "And enough is enough".

Vanessa Coleman

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