8/30/07

Denver teachers union votes for job acton

Denver Public Schools and its teachers union have two days of failed contract talks behind them this week and no plans - yet - to meet again. Negotiators for the district and the union were unable to resolve differences on issues of pay and teaching time during mediated talks that began at 10 a.m. Monday and stretched into early Wednesday morning.

"Our hope is that we can get back to the table as quickly as possible and resolve this dispute," said Kim Ursetta, president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association. "Teachers have been very clear that the economic and instructional proposals on the table are not satisfactory," she said, "so we need to find a way to work with the district."

DPS Superintendent Michael Bennet said he would like to pay teachers - and other district employees - more but can't afford it. "It's a fair offer because it's everything the district can afford in our current fiscal environment," he said of the DPS proposal. "We have made teacher pay a priority. We wish we could pay more to all of our employees. As we get the district back on strong financial footing, we'll be able to do that."

Ursetta said the union bargaining team will meet today with the DCTA board of directors to talk about next steps. Next Tuesday, after school, the union will hold five meetings across the city to talk to teachers.

"We will ask them to give us some further direction about how we can resolve this," she said.

DPS has adopted a "hard line, take it or leave it" approach, Ursetta said, and has been willing to make only "minimal" changes to its offer since negotiators for the two sides last met in May.

Bennet disagreed with that characterization.

"I hope we'll be able to reach an agreement," he said. "We have a lot of things going on in DPS right now and I think it's important for us to find a way to pull together."

Union representatives for each Denver school voted Tuesday to file notice with the Colorado Department of Labor. The action is required notice of a possible job action, which can range from a rally to picketing to a strike.

Denver classroom teachers last went on strike in 1994, and Ursetta, then a first-year teacher, went with them.

"A strike is the absolute last resort of what could happen," she said. "We want to do everything to avoid a strike. Our goal is to get a settlement."

Dividing lines

Denver Public Schools and its teachers union, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, were unable to resolve their differences after two days of mediated talks this week. Here's where they differ on the key issues of pay and time:

Pay

• DPS: Contends its offer will increase teacher pay, on average, by 6.2 percent. That includes a 3.6 percent cost-of-living hike plus the customary increases for experience and additional education, known as "steps and lanes." DPS says it has prioritized teacher pay by increasing it 21 percent over the past four years though revenue has gone up 13 percent and other employee groups have seen raises of 8 to 11 percent.

• DCTA: Contends the district offer only amounts to a 3.6 percent cost-of-living increase; the union is seeking a 4.47 increase. The union contends the "steps and lanes" shouldn't be counted in the offer because they're a typical part of any teachers' union contract. Using that calculation, the union says pay has increased only 1.5 percent per year over the past four years.

Time

• DCTA: Argues teachers need more time to analyze an increased number of student assessments and to implement new district initiatives. The union offered to add three days to the school calendar - with 1.5 days for planning and 1.5 days for instruction - and be paid only two days.

• DPS: Declined the offer, with DPS leaders saying they would like a longer school year but cannot afford to pay for it. DPS estimates the additional two days would cost between $2.5 million and $3 million.

Denver Public Schools

• Students: 72,633 as of fall 2006, the most recent figures available; Colorado's second-largest school district

• Teachers: Approximately 4,100

• Schools: 155, including traditional, charter, contract, online and alternative schools

• Starting teacher salary: $34,200. Would be $35,431 under the district's pay proposal; lags districts such as Westminster, where starting pay has hit $40,000

(rockymountainnews.com)

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