The strike affecting about 71,000 students in Denver comes about a year after West Virginia teachers launched the national "Red4Ed" movement with a nine-day strike in which they won 5 percent pay raises. "It's been 15 months of being ignored", says Cory Montreuil, an 11th and 12th grade math teacher and the high school's wrestling coach.
"They need us. They need our labor, they need our minds, they need our talents to really make it happen", lead union negotiator Rob Gould said. "I think they do some of the most important work on earth, and we don't necessarily treat them the way we should". Officials from DPS and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA) have been at the bargaining table on and off in an effort to renegotiate the ProComp (professional compensation) system that DPS uses to give teachers bonuses and financial incentives.
Teachers picketed before school last month.
"In Denver, we're losing teachers left and right", said McKeehan, who was holding a sign that read, "We'd rather be teaching".
The biggest sticking point for the two groups remains how teachers get paid.
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The union is pushing to lower or eliminate some of those bonuses to free up more money for overall teacher pay.
"When we found out teachers were going to strike Monday, we knew we wanted to show that we stand in solidarity", Denjaune Ellerbee told USA Today. "And many of those things I agree with as well".
It was 16 degrees Monday morning in northeast Denver when almost 100 teachers assembled on the sidewalk outside the Denver Center for International Studies at Montbello campus. Students are said to have streamed out of the school shortly after, though it's unclear whether or not they were instructed to do so.
At the time, the school district said it was "committed to doing everything in our power to prevent a strike".
Denver Public Schools Superintendent Susana Cordova lamented that union officials walked away from the negotiating table Saturday. "We presented an updated proposal that responds to what we have heard from teachers. and significantly increases the base pay for teachers".
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- $23 million in new funds next year for teachers' base salaries. Fair pay! When do we want it?
- The elimination of performance bonuses for central office senior staff.
DPS illustrated how its concessions to the union - more than $20 million since last June - is significantly more than the union's decrease in demands. "That prioritizes base salary over complicated, unreliable bonuses". In a clear attempt at intimidation, the DPS has warned that such absences will be marked as "unexcused" and therefore jeopardize student grades.
Montreuil says one of the reasons he became a teacher is that he remembers having consistent mentors throughout his educational upbringing-teachers who had been in the same schools for decades. So many students will have no clue when they'll see their teachers again. All schools except preschools will run on normal schedules, as will bus transportation. All public schools except preschools in Denver remained open - meaning administrators believed there'd be enough substitute teachers in place.
The school district readied 300 new substitute teachers to supplement its existing roster of 1,200, NPR has reported.
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Waldstreicher said he supports his "incredible" teachers but admitted he is anxious that, without an agreement after a few days of striking, students like himself will get behind in their studies.