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Denver Public Schools requests state intervention after teachers' union votes to strike

Posted at 1:55 PM, Jan 23, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-23 20:18:57-05

DENVER – Denver Public Schools formally submitted a request to the state’s Department of Labor and Employment on Wednesday for intervention a day after the Denver Classroom Teachers’ Association, the union that represents a majority of the district’s teachers, voted to strike as early as next Monday over a disagreement about their pay structure, among other things.

The request was made as Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and the head of the CDLE met with Denver Public Schools leadership Wednesday to discuss a possible path forward.

If the state decides to intervene, it could push the possible strike off for months while negotiations continue.

DPS said in a news release it has asked the CDLE to take jurisdiction over the dispute before next Monday, Jan. 28, which is the first day teachers could strike per their notice.

“We are deeply disappointed that we were not able to reach agreement with DCTA on the terms of our ProComp Agreement,” the district wrote in its request for intervention. “However, DPS believes that through the support of state intervention, DPS and DCTA can find more areas of alignment, resolve this dispute, and move forward in mutual partnership to support our students, our educators, and our schools.”

The district says a strike would negatively impact more than 70,000 students in the district, particularly a loss of instructional time, disruptions for students with food and medical needs they only receive at school, and extra financial hardships for parents of students who might have to take time off work in the event of a strike.

One side of the strike negotiations is allowed to request intervention, after which both parties have up to 10 days to respond. Both sides are also allowed to request intervention, but if only one side of the negotiations does so, the CDLE’s executive director can weigh whether it is in the public’s interest to exercise jurisdiction over the negotiations – something that DPS has argued is the case.

Should the department do so, some of the options to continue negotiations include mediation, arbitration and conciliation, the CDLE said. But the state is not allowed to impose an agreement between the two parties. The CDLE's Division of Labor Standards and Statistics does not have a deadline on how long it takes them to decide whether to intervene after the parties involved have submitted their responses to any filing, but try to do so within 14 days, the CDLE said.

If the CDLE decides to intervene, it is allowed to prevent the strike for a period of up to 180 days while mediation continues.

“Denver Public Schools continues to ask the DCTA to come back to the table and resume negotiations,” the district said in a release Wednesday. “School district officials remain open to continuing this dialogue with union officials to reach an agreement that honors the incredible work of DPS educators.”

A spokesperson for the DCTA told Denver7 Wednesday after the DPS request was made that it did not plan to similarly request intervention by the state and declined to comment at the time about the DPS request.

The DCTA announced Tuesday that 93 percent of teachers in the union voted in favor of a strike over what they say is an unfair pay structure, among other grievances. After negotiations, the sides were still more than $8 million apart, and there are still disagreements about bonus money and a possible redistribution of wage money to build up teachers’ base salaries.

“A strike is not a last resort,” DCTA President Henry Roman said Tuesday night. “We’ve exhausted all our options. DPS has made its choice to keep critical funding in central administration, and not to apply more of those funds to the classroom where they would provide the greatest benefit for learning. This vote shows their priorities are unacceptable to the majority of Denver teachers.”

DPS Superintendent Susana Cordova said Tuesday night that she would ask both Polis and the CDLE to step in and bring the district and union leadership back to the negotiating table to prevent the strike – something that was done in both 1991 and 1994 after DPS teachers voted to strike.

Cordova and DPS CFO Mark Ferrandino met with Polis Wednesday, and Polis’ office said that he and CDLE leadership would be meeting with the union as well.

Polis declined to answer questions about his role in the negotiations at a news conference announcing a new health care initiative Wednesday morning, saying he wanted to stay on the subject of health care.

But his office acknolwedged the meetings later Wednesday.

“At this point, the Governor has not made a decision to intervene,” the governor’s office said in a statement late Wednesday. “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.”

DPS and the DCTA have been in negotiations for a new compensation agreement since November 2017, when the agreement was extended to Jan. 18 of this year after they failed to reach a resolution.

The most-recent bargaining sessions had been ongoing since November, and after the two sides failed to reach an agreement last week, union voting of whether or not to strike took place between Saturday and Tuesday.

Cordova said Tuesday that the district was committed to keeping schools open even if teachers do strike and the CDLE does not intervene. DPS set up a website that details the differences in what the district is asking for and what the union has requested, and to also provide resources for families to help them plan for a strike.

The district said among the most important things parents can do to prepare for a strike is to ensure their student’s contact information is updated in the Parent Portal and that medication information is up-to-date. Questions can also be answered at the Family Helpline at 720-423-3054.

“To our teachers: We want and need you in our classrooms,” Cordova said in a statement Wednesday morning. “Our state has underfunded education for over a decade. Fortunately, our new governor is working to change this by funding full-day kindergarten. This has helped us put more money on the table for teacher pay. We want to work to reach an agreement and we welcome support from Governor Polis and his administration to bring us both back to negotiate.”