The Denver district asked for state intervention in a pending teacher strike. Here’s what that means.

Gov. Jared Polis' office. (Photo by Erica Meltzer, Chalkbeat Colorado).

After meeting with Gov. Jared Polis for roughly an hour Wednesday morning, Denver Public Schools officials formally requested state intervention in a potential teacher strike.

The request is not a surprise — Denver Superintendent Susana Cordova said she would ask for state intervention almost immediately after the Denver teachers union on Jan. 8 filed its notice of intent to strike — and it does not necessarily mean the strike won’t go forward. It could, however, delay it.

In a press release late Wednesday afternoon, Polis said he had not made a decision.

“The governor and the Department of Labor and Employment will continue to engage both sides and encourage both sides to return to the table and continue negotiating on a path forward,” the governor’s office said.

Without state intervention, a Denver strike could start as soon as Monday.

However, no action can occur while a decision is pending. Now that the district has filed its request, teachers cannot legally strike until a decision about intervention is made. That potentially provides time for more negotiations to occur.

By law, the teachers union has 10 days to respond to the district’s request for intervention, and the department then has 14 days to make a decision. However, neither the union nor the department is required to take the full time, state labor officials said. That means this could all play out before the end of the week, clearing the way for a strike, or drag into February.

Denver Classroom Teachers Association members voted overwhelmingly to go on strike after months of negotiations over teacher pay and the structure of ProComp, a system that provides bonuses and incentives to teachers on top of base pay, ended without an agreement.

The two sides are about $8 million apart and also disagree strongly about how much money should go toward incentives for teachers at high-poverty schools. The union wants more money to go toward base pay, while the districts sees the incentives as an important tool in attracting and keeping teachers at more challenging schools.

Typically, the Department of Labor and Employment only intervenes when both sides request it. However, the head of the department, who is appointed by the governor, can intervene if he believes it is in the public interest or if the governor does. The state cannot impose an agreement on the two sides, but it can provide mediation, conduct fact-finding, or hold hearings to try to bring the two parties together.

During the intervention period, which can last as long as 180 days, teachers and special service providers, like nurses, counselors, and school psychologists, also could not legally strike.

Denver Public Schools and the teachers union already have been working with a mediator for months. In the Pueblo teachers strike in May, the state declined to intervene because the two sides had already used mediation and fact-finding.

“The governor is being thoughtful about the appropriate role he can take in helping settle this,” Cordova said as she left her meeting with the governor at midday.

Shortly afterward, a spokesperson for the Department of Labor and Employment confirmed that Denver Public Schools had filed a request for intervention with the department.

Representatives of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association declined to comment, but posted a statement on their website. They told all members to report to work “until we hear otherwise.”

“We are disappointed in the district’s decision to involve a third party to delay our strike rather than negotiating in good faith with educators in Denver,” the union said. “We know the district has the resources to reach an agreement, and we hope to return to the table to continue negotiations on a fair compensation system for all teachers and [special service providers].”

Union representatives also met with the governor Wednesday.

“This is his effort to hear from both sides, to give both of us a chance to explain why we’ve created our proposals the way we have, and think about next steps,” Cordova said.

Cordova said she believes an outside party can help make progress where the two sides could not.

“There is deep mistrust on the part of our teachers,” she said. “Being in a place where we all feel confident we understand the facts would be really helpful.”

Denver Public Schools parents received an automated message from Cordova on Wednesday morning assuring them that school will continue as usual this week.

District officials are asking parents to make sure their contact information and any student medication records are up to date in the Parent Portal as they expect to use substitute teachers and redeployed central office staff — people who will not know students and their families the way classroom teachers do — to keep schools operating.

Originally posted on Chalkbeat by Erica Meltzer on Jan. 23, 2019. Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

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