Pay, workloads at issue in Denver teacher contract negotiations

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The Denver School District and the teachers’ union are renegotiating the teachers’ contract for the first time since the union went on strike in 2019 over higher salaries.

The agreement that ended the strike resulted in significant wage increases. Over the past three years, the median union member has seen their salary increase by 31%, according to district calculations. But the three-year post-strike agreement expires on Wednesday, and with the cost of living in Denver soaring, the two sides have yet to reach a new agreement.

As usual, salary and benefits are the main sticking points. The Denver Classroom Teachers Association has offered a three-year contract with a 12% cost-of-living increase for 2022-23, in addition to educators’ “step and lane” increases, which are the increases they get based on experience and education. .

Union president Rob Gould said teachers “want to have a significant increase in the cost of living so that we can continue to attract and retain the best educators for our students.”

The district responded with a cost of living increase of 3.5% for this school year. When added to the step and lane increases, the district calculates this would result in a 6.2% increase.

Teachers in other metropolitan districts got significant raises this year. Aurora Public Schools teachers got an average raise of 8.5% and Jeffco Public Schools teachers got an average raise of 9%. A teacher’s starting salary at Jeffco is now $50,000, which was higher than Denver’s starting salary of $47,291 last year.

Superintendent Alex Marrero said he wants Denver Public Schools to offer the highest salary for teachers in the area, but the district doesn’t have enough state funding this year. He said recent agreements with other employee unions, including one that raises pay for paraprofessionals to $20 an hour this year, show his commitment to competitive wages.

He also cut employees from what he called a “bloated” central office and used part of the $9 million in savings to offset rising health care costs for employees.

“I was treated unfairly because I wanted to do the right thing and I didn’t have the resources to do it,” said Marrero, who has been superintendent for just over a year.

Salary is not the only issue on the table. The union is also advocating for lower class sizes for teachers and workload caps for specialist service providers, such as occupational therapists and speech pathologists. Many providers say their workload is unsustainable.

“We don’t feel heard,” speech pathologist Shana Cook told the school board during a public comment this week. “I think there’s a money-first mentality in DPS.”

The union wants class size caps of 24 students in kindergarten to grade three and 25 students in grades four to 12. The current cap on class size is 35 students. The contract requires paraprofessionals to help in kindergarten through third grade classrooms with more than 25 students, and in fourth and fifth grade classrooms with more than 27 students.

The district currently has no workload caps for special service providers or special education teachers, which educators say leads to burnout and high turnover.

“One of the few new employees who chose to join our team shared that colleagues in our field who previously worked in DPS warned them not to work in the district, stating that they were underpaid, underpaid. assessed and overworked,” speech pathologist Jenni Scobey said.

But Marrero disagrees that workload or class size caps are the solution. Instead, he said the union and district should form a committee to review class size data and determine how to respond. He pointed to Colorado Department of Education statistics that show Denver has a student-teacher ratio of 14.5 to 1. Union leaders are skeptical.

To relieve overworked specialist service providers, Marrero would like to hire a core team of speech-language pathologists and others to deploy to schools in need.

The district and union have met three times this week and have another bargaining session scheduled for Wednesday, the day the contract expires. In recent years, both parties have extended the expired contract so that they can continue to negotiate.

Marrero said he was confident they could reach an agreement by Wednesday.

“I’m not just hopeful, I’m determined to reach an agreement by the 31st,” he said.

Melanie Asmar is a senior reporter for Chalkbeat Colorado, covering Denver Public Schools. Contact Melanie at [email protected].

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