Denver

More than 2,100 educators in Denver, Colorado’s 161 public schools are walking out Monday, in what is the district’s first teacher strike in more than two decades.

And in at least one school, students at Denver’s East High School are forgoing the lesson plans given to substitutes and instead choosing to organize a dance party in the hallways in solidarity with their teachers. East students also chanted “pay our teachers” in the lively pro-teacher demonstration.

Teachers are striking as a result of the impasse between the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA) — which represents roughly 5,600 teachers in Colorado’s capital city — and Denver Public Schools (DPS) over teacher pay. While the district was able to secure enough substitute teachers to keep schools open on Monday, the Denver Post reported that the district’s preschool classes would be closed for the day due to a lack of available support staff.

The back-and-forth between Denver teachers and the district has gone on for nearly a year and a half. Teachers say the pay raise the district offered, that would have raised the salary for first-year teachers to $45,000/year, and that would have allocated another $55 million for pay raises over the next three years (including $22 million for the following academic year), was not enough to avert the strike. The Post reported that teachers even decreased their demand for pay increases by more than $2.5 million in an effort to compromise with the district, but DPS refused to accept the offer.

In a city with as high of a cost of living as Denver, educators participating in Monday’s teacher strike say they need to be able to make enough to live in the communities where they teach.

“We’re just asking for a predictable, fair living wage,” Aimee Baker, an East High teacher who’s been in the district for 12 years, told the Post.

Salary data from Glassdoor shows that the average pay for a teacher in Denver Public Schools is just $45,000/year. While that amount may go further in states that saw teacher strikes and walkouts in 2018 like Kentucky and West Virginia, it’s a paltry salary in comparison to the city’s cost of living. An August 2018 post from real estate site Hotpads showed that the average combined cost for both housing and child care in the Denver area was more than $40,000/year. This means that a DPS teacher with small children making the average salary would spend nearly 90 percent of their salary just on housing and child care.

Colorado Governor Jared Polis (D) declined last week to intervene in the pay dispute between the DCTA and DPS, which prompted the strike. Polis encouraged both sides to strike a deal as soon as possible, saying that keeping schools open during a strike costs the district roughly $400,000 per day.

 

Carl Gibson is a politics contributor for Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.

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