DENVER (CBS4/CNN) – After more than a year of tense negotiations with the school district, Denver teachers overwhelmingly voted to strike late Tuesday. Following two days of voting, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association announced that 93 percent of its members approved a strike after negotiations failed.
“Denver teachers overwhelmingly agreed to strike,” lead negotiator Rob Gould said on Tuesday night.
Members of the DCTA have begun meeting to make signs, write chants and practice picketing.
Teacher Rachel Barnes told CBS4 her salary has either stayed the same or decreased for the past 13 years, and that’s why she wants a change.
“Year after year, I went through DPS myself as a student, my kids go to DPS, I teach in DPS — I’ve been committed to this district for a long time and it just seems like a slap in the face to teachers,” Barnes said.
Schools are open Wednesday, but the strike could happen as soon as Monday, Denver Public Schools Superintendent Susana Cordova said. If further negotiations fail, Gov. Jared Polis could also intervene. That’s something Cordova told CBS4 on Wednesday morning she supports.
“Absolutely. We think it’s going to be very important that we have support to help us continue negotiating. It’s so important to our city, to our children. And certainly to our teachers. It’s in everybody’s best interest to get to an agreement,” she said.
The union had been negotiating with the district for 14 months to overhaul the compensation system, which the union says is directly linked to the city’s teacher turnover rate. Turnover, the union said, is high and increasing. According to the union, 31% of Denver teachers have been working at their school for three years or less.
“The revolving door is a crisis for kids and families who count on DPS to consistently provide a caring, qualified and experienced teaching staff at every school,” the union said in a news release announcing the result of the vote.
DCTA hopes to alleviate the high turnover with changes to Denver teachers’ pay, which the union says prohibits some teachers from paying for housing in the area and forces some to take on second jobs. As an example of the hardships Denver teachers face, the union cited a teacher who taught in Indianapolis and Chicago before moving to Colorado. The teacher makes $10,000 less in Denver than he did in Indianapolis and $15,000 less than he did in Chicago, the union said in its statement.
Take home pay varies year to year, the union said, because the pay system is full of unpredictable bonuses to compensate for a low base pay. The union said its proposal could be funded if some of the $4 million designated annually for administrator bonuses was invested in teacher salaries.
“They’re striking for better pay, they’re striking for our profession and they’re striking for Denver students,” Gould said.
“I think what they’re requesting is absolutely reasonable,” said Donna Benton, a parent with two students in DPS. “I think it makes up for a lot of what they haven’t gotten over the years.”
On Friday, the union and DPS were unable to reach an agreement on a fair compensation system for 5,700 teachers and special service providers.
“It is very disappointing. We fully committed to negotiations for more than a year with a goal of keeping more of our talented and dedicated teachers in the district,” said DCTA President Henry Roman.
According to Roman, the final offer from DPS came up $8 million short of the funding the union sought to create a compensation system that would attract new teachers while valuing the service of current staff.
This would be Denver’s first teacher’s strike since 1994.
“I remain very committed to working with our teacher’s association to reach an agreement,” Cordova, the superintendent, said.
“We are very committed to keeping schools open. Even with this strike vote there is nothing that will change for school tomorrow; so tomorrow schools will be open,” she said.
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. CNN contributed to this report.)