Denver teachers on strike for first time in 25 years, and all they're asking for is a living wage

Denver teachers on strike for first time in 25 years, and all they're asking for is a living wage

The compensation system for DPS is bent out of shape

PoliticsJanuary 23, 2019 By Will Brendza

As early as Monday, Denver’s school teachers might not be in school. Earlier this week the underpaid, overworked educators overwhelmingly voted to go on strike until wage negotiations with the Denver County Teacher’s Association (DCTA) were settled.

See, these teachers are barely scraping by. Not just because the cost of living in this state is soaring to new heights, but because their compensation is currently tied up in all kinds of bonuses and incentives. Meaning each and every one of their paychecks could be different from one month to the next.

That makes budgeting and financial planning difficult and makes saving money all but impossible. Especially since the base pay they receive is so low. The way the compensation system is currently set up, they are granted only tiny, meager paychecks — on top of which they are expected to earn the extra bonuses/incentives.  

This strange system has resulted in massive teacher turnover rates throughout Denver County. According to the DCTA, a whopping 31 percent of teachers in the county have been at their jobs for only three years or less.

“The revolving door is a crisis for kids and families who count on Denver Public Schools (DPS) to consistently provide a caring, qualified and experienced teaching staff at every school,” the DCTA said in a press release.

Teachers are coming and going in Denver schools like days of the week, and that’s bad for both faculty relationships as well as those between students and their teachers. If kids have different teachers every year, if the faces at the front of the classroom are changing as often as the faces in the seats, that’s a problem.

And it’s a big reason why there’s so much support for these teachers going on strike. In a survey of 603 likely Denver voters, the DCTA found that 69 percent of DPS parents are in favor of the teacher strike.

DCTA president Henry Roman said in a press release, “Denver students deserve to have teachers who stay in the district for the entirety of their career and I would like to see the DPS team bring a proposal that honors this need when they decide to return to bargaining.”

However, when the DPS team did actually return to the bargaining table, they didn’t bring much with them. In fact, their last proposal fell $8 million short, “from the funding required to create a professional compensation system that would attract new teachers while valuing the service of current staff.”

In response, the teachers voted in a landslide to go on strike.

 Teaching staff from Denver's East High School may not be in school as early as Monday of next week. 

The county is still hopeful that some kind of agreement might be reached in the coming days. “We are very committed to keeping schools open,” Denver County superintendent, Susana Cordova, told CNN. “Even with this strike vote there is nothing that will change for school tomorrow,” she says.

Come Monday, though, DPS might have to start hiring a lot of substitutes to fill empty classrooms. And that won’t come cheap. During a strike, the district has to pay subs double the normal $106 per day. If all 5,700 teachers and special service providers go a’striking, the district could get stuck with a monstrous substitute teacher bill.

In the end, DPS might as well just fork over the cash. Denver needs these teachers, teachers need a living wage and a stable income, and one way or another, the district is going to have to pay a lot of money to deal with this situation. At this point they should just give the teachers what they want.

What’s the worst that could happen? They make a few thousand teachers financially comfortable?

That sounds like a reasonable price to pay, to ensure Denver’s public school system is full of teachers who actually give a damn about their job.