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Denver Teachers' Union and District Reach Deal to End Strike

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Updated

After 20 straight hours of bargaining, the Denver school district and teachers' union finally reached a deal to end the city's first teacher strike in 25 years.

The tentative agreement, which raises teacher salaries and calls for a research study to examine the causes of teacher turnover in the district's poorest schools, now goes before the rank-and-file teachers to ratify. Teachers, who have been on strike for three days, are encouraged to return to the classroom today. 

Teachers had gone on strike over the district's performance-based compensation system, known as ProComp. In 2005, taxpayers approved a property tax increase to fund ProComp, which was developed jointly between the union and the district. The district receives about $33 million a year for the teacher-pay system.

Under ProComp, teachers can qualify for about 10 different financial incentives and bonuses, including for their students' academic performance or for working in a hard-to-staff position or school. But teachers have said the system is confusing and unpredictable—the bonuses fluctuate from year to year and make it hard to plan financially.

The teachers' union had advocated for reducing the incentives and putting more money into base salaries for teachers across-the-board. The district agreed to give teachers a pay raise but wanted to raise the annual incentive for teachers who work in high-poverty schools. Superintendent Susana Cordova has said that's key to recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers in those schools.

On Wednesday, the two sides came to the bargaining table ready to compromise. While union members spoke of alternate ways to improve teacher retention in high-poverty schools—like smaller class sizes or less of a reliance on student test scores in teacher evaluations—Denver Classroom Teachers Association's lead negotiator Rob Gould said the union was willing to compromise on the incentives if the district agreed to the base salary changes "because we know how important this is to you." 

Ultimately, the union agreed to accept the district's proposal of a $3,000 annual bonus for teachers who work in 30 of the district's highest-priority schools. In exchange, a research study will be conducted by both the district and the union to examine the root causes of teacher turnover and retention in these schools and see if the incentive should be continued. The union and district also compromised on financial incentives for teachers working in high-poverty schools and hard-to-staff positions, meeting at $2,000 a year.

The union also agreed to the district's proposal to offer teachers a raise for serving in the district for 10 years. Under the new salary schedule, starting salaries will increase, and teachers will receive an average base salary increase of 11.7 percent next year and a cost-of-living increase the following two years. 

The district is eliminating 150 central office positions, as well as performance-based bonuses for central office executives, to put more money into teacher compensation. In all, the deal invests an additional $23 million in teacher pay.

"This is a pretty historic moment," said Cordova, who stepped into the superintendent's role in December, as she announced the deal. "There's a significant investment in our teachers and their salaries while maintaining a focus on equity."

She added that she plans to wear "Red for Ed" on Friday in a show of support for more state funding for public education. According to an Education Week Research Center analysis that's been adjusted for regional cost differences, Colorado spends about $9,700 per student—below the national average of about $12,500.

"No longer will our students see their education disrupted because their teachers cannot afford to stay in their classrooms," said DCTA President Henry Roman, in a statement. "We are thankful that both sides were able to come together after 15 months of bargaining to ensure our educators have a transparent salary schedule with a professional base salary scale and less reliance on unpredictable bonuses that disrupt our schools."

There are about 5,000 teachers in the Denver school district. The district has said about 2,600 teachers have been absent from school for the strike. The union has argued that the total number is closer to 3,800, based on sign-in sheets and headcounts on the picket lines. 

On social media, Denver teachers cheered the end of the strike. 

The next group of teachers to strike might be in Oakland, Calif. Teachers there authorized a strike earlier this month, and the union leaders can call for a strike to happen after a neutral fact-finding report is released on Friday. The union is asking for a teacher pay raise, smaller class sizes, and additional counselors and school nurses. Teachers are also furious over the cash-strapped district's proposal to close up to 24 schools. 

Image: Denver teachers ride on the back of a vintage Denver Fire Department truck past a strike rally on the west steps of the state Capitol Feb. 11. —David Zalubowski/AP

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