Denver teachers and their allies were back on the picket line for a second day Tuesday as union leaders and district officials prepare to resume negotiating over how teachers are paid.
The Denver Classroom Teachers Association began a strike Monday, its first in 25 years, over disagreements with Denver Public Schools about which teachers should receive bonuses, and how big those bonuses should be.
Catch up on the pay system’s history here and the current sticking points here. Talks between the union and district resumed at 10 a.m. at the Denver Public Library’s central branch, which can accommodate what’s likely to be a significant crowd. They’re being livestreamed. Our reporters will share updates from the talks — set to go to 8 p.m. — and from across the city throughout the day here.
3:02 p.m. Susana Cordova’s no good, very bad job transition
It’s hard to believe, but Denver’s schools chief has been on the job only for six weeks. The school board named Susana Cordova, formerly deputy superintendent, as the sole finalist to replace longtime superintendent Tom Boasberg in December.
The strike is Cordova’s first big test, and some union members and allies say she’s falling short. Yesenia Robles has more:
When Cordova was named superintendent, she touted her experience as a teacher in the district and wanted to let everyone know she would be different from her predecessor, whose relationship with teachers was fraught.
But dealing with a strike on her sixth week on the job seems to be putting an early strain on her relationship with teachers.
Several signs on the picket lines across the city reference her specifically, and teachers say they are finding it hard to trust her. They have questioned her description of her offers in negotiations, for example, as well as how she characterized conditions inside schools during the strike.
Now, one post titled “REOPEN THE SUPERINTENDENT SEARCH!!!!” on a public Facebook group Tuesday is asking whether the strike could cost Cordova the job.
Part of the question revolves around the fact that the district hasn’t signed a contract with her yet. One was on the school board’s agenda just as teachers were voting to go on strike.
The board, which supported her appointment unanimously, is unlikely to revisit its decision to hire Cordova. Still, the public discussion could make her path to win support from teachers steeper than she anticipated.
2:52 p.m. Talks resume, finally
The 30-minute lunch break turned into a more-than-three-hour hiatus but union and district officials are now back at the bargaining table. They appear to be in good spirits. Rob Gould, the union’s top negotiator, said he thought the union had put together a strong counterproposal after this morning’s talks. And he answered a cutting question from his members with what sounds like a joke:
Talks between the Denver district and its teachers union broke for lunch more than two hours ago. Why haven’t they resumed? Melanie just tweeted an answer:
1:45 p.m. The scene from inside Abraham Lincoln High School
Video shot by students inside Denver high schools on Monday appeared to show chaotic conditions — a narrative that national right-wing media outlets immediately amplified in an effort to discredit the teachers union.
Here’s a video from today that shows an orderly display of solidarity.
Julia Aguirre, the Abraham Lincoln High School senior who shared it with Chalkbeat, wrote this about the demonstration and what happened next:
Today we conducted a sit in school wide to visually demonstrate we have always stood with our teachers and we always will. We then marched up to the second floor chanting: “Education is our right, this is why we have to fight!” We marched in hopes of getting more students to join and they did. After we joined our teachers in the front of our school we came back to class so show we really do just want a better education. Not only do we want our teachers back, but we need them.
1:25 p.m. A poetry interlude
While we wait for negotiations to resume (Melanie reports that pizza has replaced burrito as the background fragrance), we want to direct you to a poem that a Denver teacher, Joseph Bolz, posted to Facebook this morning. In the poem, Bolz outlines the many reasons he cried on the strike’s first day: because of the cold weather, because he missed his students and classroom, because he knew some teachers who wanted to picket could not. “I cried because of the sheer beauty of it all,” Bolz wrote. “To see so many hearts with a single goal.”
12:50 p.m. Teacher strikes go to Washington
Jahana Hayes, the 2016 national Teacher of the Year who was elected in November to Congress, brought up teacher strikes on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives today. She didn’t mention Denver specifically but did underscore a point that many Denver teachers have been making this week.
“If they think teachers are striking for salaries alone, then they don’t get it,” Hayes said. “That’s not how this works.”
At least two Democratic presidential candidates, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, have explicitly endorsed Denver teachers.
12:15 p.m. Technical tweaks dominate morning negotiations
Here’s another dispatch from Melanie. Her last line will make you hungry:
This morning’s negotiations have been pretty technical. The district presented a new proposal for how teachers can change “lanes” on the salary schedule and get raises.
The union has long advocated for allowing teachers to use training courses, called “professional development units,” to get raises, similar to how they would use college credits or advanced degrees. Last week, the district presented a proposalthat would allow that. On Tuesday morning, district officials offered tweaks in response to union pushback.
Union negotiators peppered district officials with questions about the tweaks, then took a break to meet privately to discuss them. Teachers in the audience used the break to stretch their legs, eat lunch, and run out to grab coffee. The row we’re sitting in smells like Chipotle burritos.
Nothing yet about the bonuses and incentives for teachers at high-poverty schools that make up many of the sticking points between the union and district.
12:09 p.m. Freebies for Denver teachers
Denver teachers on strike are benefitting from more than community goodwill right now. Local businesses are also showing their support by offering freebies for local educators. Fitness studios, coffee and pizza shops, wedding planners, and, yes, craft breweries have all volunteered their products and services. Here’s a Facebook thread tracking the offers.
11:05 a.m. The view from social media
Teachers and their allies across Denver have flooded Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat with pictures from their pickets. We can’t possibly share them all, so here’s one that Erica Schenck, a teacher, shared of her school’s all-female science department on Instagram this morning.
10:46 a.m. National union leaders are back on the picket line
Representatives from the National Education Association, the national teachers union of which the Denver union is a chapter, are in town to picket with local teachers. Here’s what NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia tweeted this morning:
Our Erica Meltzer spoke Monday with Eskelsen Garcia, who said ProComp has caused “chaos” in Denver. “There is not one school district in the country that is going to look at Denver and think, ‘Oh, I think I’ll try that,’” she said.
The Denver Classroom Teachers Association helped design the ProComp pay system without the support of the national union that Eskelen García now heads.
10:25 a.m. Why you can watch Denver’s teachers contract talks
From Melanie Asmar:
In Colorado, teacher contract negotiations happen in public, which is different than in most states, where bargaining is a closed-door affair. It’s been that way since 2015, after Colorado voters passed a ballot initiative requiring the open-door sessions.
That’s played out in Denver in a very high-profile way. For the past couple of years, Denver teachers have been packing bargaining sessions, first for the master contract and now for the ProComp agreement. And they don’t just watch passively. Teachers boo if they hear something they don’t like, snap if they hear something they do, and regularly shout out their opinions.
When the union bargaining team entered the room Tuesday, the crowd went wild, giving them a standing ovation and starting a now-familiar cheer: “If they won’t pay us, shut it down!”
The dynamic is a boon for union members and their allies, who have more visibility now than under the old way of negotiating. That’s not what the right-wing Independence Institute anticipated when it advanced the open-meetings ballot initiative. “Transparency is good for everyone,” Jon Caldara, the institute’s president, told Chalkbeat in 2014. “If this is such an advantage for the unions, why are they against it?”
10:05 a.m. What you need to know as negotiations resume
Some essential background from Melanie Asmar:
The district and union are negotiating how to revamp ProComp, the district’s complex teacher pay system of bonuses and incentives. on top of their base salaries.
The district’s last offer, made on Saturday afternoon, would add $23 million to teacher pay next year and $55 million over three years. The money would come from cutting 150 central-office positions, eliminating bonuses for top administrators, and anticipated state aid increases, according to schools chief Susana Cordova.
That gets closer to but not does reach the union’s demand: $28 million more next year.
The two sides also disagree on how to divvy up the money. The union wants to shrink the size of bonuses and incentives and pump more money into teachers’ base salaries, arguing that stable pay would do more to keep teachers than bonuses that can come and go.
The district sees the bonuses as key to attracting and retaining teachers at high-poverty schools. The district’s Saturday offer included something the union found particularly objectionable: increasing the size of bonuses for teachers at 30 “highest-priority schools” to $3,000, from its previous proposal of $2,500. The union wants to eliminate that particular bonus altogether.
We can expect to hear more about the highest-priority schools during negotiations today.
10 a.m. A big crowd and an empty table to start negotiations
The Denver Public Library’s basement auditorium is packed with strike supporters wearing red, while a bargaining table has been assembled as negotiations resume. Melanie Asmar is at the library, where unlike in school district buildings, the wi-fi is reliable and social media isn’t blocked. That means you can follow her on Twitter for updates.
9:05 a.m.: New attention for “innovation schools”
One side effect of the strike is that teachers and parents across Denver are paying attention to “innovation schools,” dozens of schools that the district runs but frees from many rules. They’re often described (including by us!) as having “charter-like flexibility” — but unlike charter schools, their teachers are members of the local union. That came as a surprise to at least one strike ally who posted in an active Facebook group — but was quickly rebuffed by people who said their innovation schools were on the picket line today.
8:44 a.m.: Strike fund swells
As national attention has turned to the strike, the GoFundMe launched to build a strike fund — a fund that can support union members who go without pay during the day — has swelled. On Monday morning, the fund had about $26,000. Today, that number is up to $33,000. The donors include at least one craft brewery.
8 a.m.: A big question today
One thing we’re watching: Exactly how many teachers are joining the strike. The district reported Monday that 56 percent of teachers did not come to work; on Tuesday, it upgraded that estimate to 58 percent, without sharing why the numbers changed. It also said that a majority of teachers did not participate at 30 “highest-priority” schools where the union’s plan would eliminate special bonuses. Will those numbers hold up on the strike’s second day? If not, the union could potentially face a situation where less than half of members are participating — a potentially critical blow to maintaining public support.
7 a.m.: 76 percent of students in school Monday
The Denver district just released attendance data from Monday, when it said 76 percent of students showed up to school. That rate wasn’t unexpected, since the district and union both initially encouraged families to send their children to school, but it doesn’t capture the significant numbers of students who left early. Some parents posted on social media that they would not be sending their children back to school today.