DENVER -- Denver Public Schools teachers staged a walk-in protest Tuesday morning for the second day in a row.
Teachers at nine schools gathered outside before classes started and held signs up for cars before marching into the school together in a show of solidarity.
On Monday, teachers at South High School, Ellis Elementary and Bradley International school also held walk-in protests. These protests did not interrupt classes. However, teachers told Denver7 it’s important that their voices and their concerns are heard by the district.
“It’s extremely frustrating and the children are really suffering and at some point, we’re going to realize that we need to make a change,” said teacher Rachel Barnes.
Barnes has been a teacher for more than a decade. She says if it weren’t for her husband’s supplemental income, she doesn’t know how she would make ends meet.
“I am making the same amount of money as I did in 2007. I have a lot more experience, I’ve been to numerous trainings and yet I don’t see that in my salary,” Barnes said.
The walk-ins happened before Wednesday’s final compensation bargaining discussion between the district and teachers unions.
Denver Classroom Teachers Association deputy executive director Corey Kern told Denver7 these discussions usually last a few hours. However, the association requested for the discussions to start early Wednesday morning so that all of the sticking points can be worked through.
“Teachers are really frustrated with the way negotiations have gone. They feel like we’re really far apart,” Kern said.
The DCTA is advocating for the district to return to a "steps and lanes" salary schedule. This method bases a teacher’s salary on their years of experience and level of education.
Currently, DPS is on a ProComp salary schedule meaning that teachers are paid based on performance. In this method, both education and experience factor into a teacher’s base pay. However, teachers can earn bonuses for working in hard-to-hire or high priority schools. Denver taxpayers approved the switch in 2005.
“The way the system is currently set up, teachers are actually incentivized, once they get to year five or so, to leave the district and then come back to make more money. For one teacher I was talking to a couple of days ago, that was a $10,000 difference when she did that,” Kern said.
Right now, the average DPS teacher earns about $67,000 per year with benefits included. However, teachers Denver7 spoke with say it’s not enough to cover their cost of living.
Kevlyn Walsh, a photography and graphic design teacher at East High School, works a second job as a waitress 15 hours a week to afford the cost of living. Walsh said she recently gave up her apartment and chose to move in with her parents because she wants to try to pay off her student loans and save up for a house.
Kern says many other DPS teachers are in a similar position.
“Most teachers in the district can’t afford to live in the district. A study recently came out that said DPS is the hardest district in the country for teachers to live within their community,” Kern said. “They’re working a second job, they’re working a third job or if they’re commuting two hours a day, I mean that hurts their performance.”
The walk-ins come in the wake of a nine-day teacher strike in West Virginia, resulting in the governor signing a bill that gave educators a five-percent pay raise.
“Teachers are not willing to just cave and so I think a lot of folks are inspired by West Virginia and Oklahoma,” Kern said.
The DCTA says it hopes the DPS protests won’t have to grow into teacher strikes. However, the association will reevaluate its position to decide if more actions are necessary this week.
“If we don’t then we’re going to have to take further action and it’s going to be further than walk-ins,” Kern said.
He is hopeful, though, that the negotiations will work out.
The DCTA unveiled a $100,000 teacher proposal, which would allow educators with 20 years of experience and a doctorate to earn as much as $100,000 a year.
Kern says the district already has the money it needs to pay for the proposal and it would not require new taxes.
“We believe we can pay for it with the money we already have now and maybe the district making a couple of cuts in their budget. Right now, they spend more money per district than any other district on administration and central office. So, we if we need to make a couple of cuts, we can do it there,” he said.
Denver7 reached out to DPS for an interview about the teacher salary negotiations. The district did not respond.