Education

Denver teachers keep losing money as they strike for more pay

School district says it's closer to deal

For the third day in a row, Denver teachers protested in the cold to try to keep educators from fleeing the city.

But they're also losing hundreds of dollars every day they're on strike -- making a difficult situation even more painful.

"This is definitely hurting me," fourth-year elementary school teacher Ariel Walker said. "But I need to recognize that in order for me to have a bigger gain, and for future educators, too, I need to suffer."

Twelve hours of marathon negotiations Tuesday ended with no deal between Denver Public Schools and the teachers' union, Denver Classroom Teachers Association.

But in a rare sign of solidarity, both sides said they were making progress.

"We exchanged proposals that are moving us closer and are hopeful that we will get to an agreement soon," the dueling sides said Wednesday in a joint statement. "However, we need a little more time to resolve the outstanding issues."

What's happening in Denver is part of a nationwide surge of teachers' strikes that spread like wildfire last year and keeps gaining strength this year.

In some of those strikes, teachers got what they wanted. Other times, they didn't. And in some states where teachers scored victories, unions say lawmakers are now retaliating with new bills.

What makes Denver's strike unusual is the fact that it focuses mainly on teachers' salaries, rather than school funding or resources for students.

Yet students keep joining the strike, marching on snow-lined sidewalks to demand better pay for their teachers.

Teachers are losing hundreds of dollars a day

Since teachers don't get paid while on strike, they're making tremendous sacrifices to stay on the picket lines.

So for three nights in a row, Walker has limited herself to eating pasta with butter for dinner. Breakfast and lunch each day has been peanut butter and jelly.

Lindsey Rutledge said "it's almost impossible" to live on an educator's salary in Denver.

"The rent has skyrocketed over the past few years," the high school psychologist said. "After we pay our rent, our student loan bill, our car payments, we have nothing left over. Most people who work in schools have to have second and third jobs."

Educators say they want higher, stable base salaries -- not the unpredictable bonuses that DPS gives each year to compensate for low base pay.

"The bonuses are really inconsistent, and we can't count on them from year to year," Rutledge said.

Despite losing hundreds of dollars during the strike, Rutledge said she's staying on the picket lines.

"I care deeply about this issue, so I'll strike as long as it takes to get this issue resolved," she said.

The strike is costing the school district, too

For every day teachers strike, "we estimate it could cost more than $400,000," DPS spokeswoman Anna Alejo said.

That cost includes paying substitute teachers; lost tuition from the district's preschools, which are closed during the strike; and providing new lesson plans and materials.

"The district provided orientation and training to all substitute teachers. They have lesson plans that are both grade and subject-specific to use with students," Alejo said. "Each school was provided eight to nine days of lesson plans."

More than 2,600 teachers are on strike, refusing to return to class until they reach a deal. To make up for the loss, about 1,400 central office staff members and 400 substitute teachers have been filling in for the missing teachers.

What each side has put up

Denver Public Schools says it has offered:

• $23 million in new funds next year for teachers' base salaries. (That would increase the average teacher's salary from about $55,000 to $61,000.)

• A total investment of $55 million over the next three years.

• An increased starting salary of $45,800 for new teachers.

• Another $2 million investment in base pay for teachers and specialized staff members that would "come from additional, painful cuts to our central departments, which we estimate to be an elimination of about 150 positions in the central office."

• The elimination of performance bonuses for central office senior staff. "We would invest those funds directly in our highest-needs schools, with a proposed increase in incentive pay for teaching in our schools with the highest poverty rates," the school district said. "Our offer increases that incentive from $2,500 to $3,000."

The school district said it's disappointed the teachers' union has rejected all its proposals so far.

These are the salaries the union is asking for

But the union said it is waiting for "a fair, competitive and transparent salary schedule that prioritizes base salary over complicated, unreliable bonuses."


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