Denver Teachers Strike Back Against Incentive-Based Pay

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In what has become a growing trend across America these days, Denver teachers launched a strike on Monday. Close to 4,000 educators stood outside schools all over the Denver area, some joined by their students, in an effort to get better working conditions. While on the surface it’s easy to say they’re striking for more money, that doesn’t begin to tell their story.

Denver is one of many school districts that works on an incentive pay system. In essence, teachers earn bonuses depending on how they’re evaluated. Those evaluations are calculated through student test scores and administrative assessments. Additional bonuses are given for teachers willing to work in high-poverty areas. It sounds like a solid idea that would encourage teachers to excel in the classroom but in reality, it leaves them uncertain about what they’ll make year to year.

Via: Denver Public Schools

Negotiations between the district and the teacher’s union began 15 months ago, and although the district has raised its offer several times, it hasn’t come close to what teachers are looking for. What they want is a clear and simple salary schedule that offers a higher base salary and gets rid of incentivized pay, which they say doesn’t work in the first place.

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We are incredibly disappointed that on the last day of bargaining and less than two days before a strike, they doubled down on one-time incentives teachers do not want, and the data shows do not work to keep teachers in their schools.” 

-DCTA President and teacher Henry Roman

Teachers say the bonus system is too unpredictable and doesn’t make up for a base salary that is one of the lowest in the nation. Colorado ranks 46th nationwide when it comes to average teacher salaries, but that problem is compounded if you live in a city like Denver. Denver has one of the highest cost of living rates in the entire country, making it nearly impossible to survive there on a teacher’s salary

Another point of contention is who is getting those bonuses. Administrators also have been earning bonuses for running high-performing schools, but the union says Denver has far more administrators than any other neighboring district and paying them out leaves less for the educators in the classroom. Teachers are also striking for an increase in the overall amount of per-student spending. Colorado again ranks near the bottom of the country in this category as well.

Many Denver educators are working two or three jobs just to stay afloat, and even that isn’t enough to build any kind of savings. Some teachers say they’re too broke to even go on strike, saying that they support the mission of the teacher’s union, but missing several days of pay could leave them homeless with nowhere else to go. Now, they say the time has come to take a stand.

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Today was an awakening for the district.”

-Rob Gould, lead negotiator for the Denver Classroom Teachers Association

While teachers continue to picket alongside many supportive students, the district is attempting to keep the doors open using administrators and substitutes to fill in the gaps. Many students however simply refused to show up at all, or walked out when they saw what was happening. That led to a class-action lawsuit filed on Monday on behalf of children with special needs. The lawsuit alleges that a prolonged strike would be harmful to any student with a disability, especially the ones that thrive on structure and routine.

As union and district officials head back to the bargaining table, many districts across the country are paying close attention. Denver teachers are the first to strike over the incentive pay system, and given the rash of teacher walkouts across America over the last year, they may not be the last.


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David Rode

Veteran Legend

I'm currently a Middle School Math Teacher which means I'm also a glutton for punishment. Honestly though, I am keenly aware that Middle School is basically the worst 3 years in the life of a child, so it's my mission to make it suck less. I'm also a musician, a community theater, Dad to two amazing children, and I don't get a lot of sleep.

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