Watching Potential Strike

Teacher strikes and walk outs across the country are again making news. Last year West Virginia, Arizona, Oklahoma, and Colorado made news for their teacher walk outs. Los Angeles teachers are currently on strike and right here in Colorado, Denver Public Schools is also a possibility.

As Denver Public Schools administration and teacher association continue “negotiations,” we’re watching. We put negotiations in quotes because during a bargaining meeting earlier this week, the administrative team left to caucus at 11 a.m. but never returned to the bargaining session. They literally left teachers, speech pathologists, and psychologists waiting for 6 hours, never telling them that they did not plan on returning to the bargaining session.)

Chalkbeat presented some interesting coverage about Denver pay disparities and how much administration Denver has compared to other districts. Read the full article below! We’ve included just a few sample quotes below.

Denver has 1 administrator for every 7.5 instructional staff — far above state average

“Denver’s ratio of administrators to students is also significantly higher than the statewide average. In 2016-17, Denver had one administrator for every 96 students. The statewide average was one administrator for every 166 students.”

“Colorado’s second-largest district, Jeffco Public Schools, hasn’t seen nearly as much change. And whereas Denver has more administrators than average, Jeffco actually has fewer.”

“Administrators in Denver also earn higher average salaries than administrators statewide. In 2016-17, the average administrator salary in Colorado was $87,416. In Denver, the average administrator salary was $108,470. In Jeffco, it was $102,484.”

Presenting facts about administrative numbers is a difficult one. In Jeffco, where we have far fewer administrators than the state average, inaccurate public perception and rumors abound, often to the detriment of our students and support for our schools. Because people don’t know the facts, we created this for you to share –

It also doesn’t serve students well to assume that district administrators “do nothing” or are not as valuable as other staff members. Pitting teachers and classified staff against district staff isn’t productive and actually causes us all more grief during elections when we need community support the most. Yet in the case of DPS, the numbers do reflect an issue of priority, particularly when the numbers are not in alignment with the rest of the state.

“…the number of administrators in Denver grew by 140 percent in that same time period. The number of teachers and other instructional staff increased by just 46 percent.”

There’s more coverage from Chalkbeat here –

We also recommend this article for more analysis –

While we are intently watching what happens with Denver, we have to wonder how we will solve this issue on a statewide level. With Amendment 73 a loss (just missing by approximately 200,000 votes) and no new funding, the overall issue still isn’t being addressed. Denver has a problem but other districts do as well.

What might happen in Jeffco during upcoming negotiations?

Sure, we passed a mill levy of $33 million. 50% was promised to go to staff compensation.

“50% of funds would support our ability to compete with neighboring school districts to hire and retain great teachers and staff at all schools.”

Edited on 1/21 due to the $3,000,000 that will go to charters. Also, keep in mind these are not complete or factual numbers, just a quick calculation to show $33,000,000 doesn’t go far.

That means we have $15,000,000 for staff salaries. Approximately 14,000 staff members, less approximately 100 district administrators who were exempt from salary increases based on the promise to the community in the mill levy. Even if the money were divided equally amongst staff (it likely won’t be), that’s $1071 per employee per year BEFORE taxes or a less over $89 per month BEFORE taxes. It’s a positive boost but it won’t make our salaries truly competitive. This was a comparison of salaries before the election (other districts also passed mills and bonds); negotiations in Jeffco begin next week.

There is an overwhelming disparity when it comes to equity but the underfunding issue Colorado has statewide remains a problem for all education staff.

  • $4,511 Amount Colorado spends per pupil below Nebraska (adjusted for regional cost differences) [Ed Week, 2017 Quality Counts]
  • $8,019 Amount Colorado spends per pupil below Wyoming (adjusted for regional cost differences) [Ed Week, 2017 Quality Counts]
  • $2,157 Amount Colorado spends per pupil below Kansas (adjusted for regional cost differences) [Ed Week, 2017 Quality Counts]
  • $1,243 Amount Colorado spends per pupil below New Mexico (adjusted for regional cost differences) [Ed Week, 2017 Quality Counts]

Complicating matters more for Colorado education staff is the higher cost of living in the metro area. Some districts and other governmental authorities have proposed building low cost housing, an interesting idea but one should also think “do you want your employer to also be your landlord?” Is it an appropriate role of governmental authorities to be in a position of housing developer/provider?

For Denver, further complicating matters is an issue of “bonuses.” The bonus structure for “good teachers” is floated at the Capitol every year during the legislative session and has failed each time. Teacher associations are also generally opposed to them. Bonus structures in Denver, also known as “Distinguished” ratings bonus, are highly controversial, often pitting groups against one another. One Denver teacher explained that one the schools “improve,” the bonuses go away, thus eliminating the incentive. Another noted in an online conversation the issues of inequity, “ProComp, merit pay systems put a monetary value on teaching children of color, poor students, and English Language Learners, and perpetuates the exact deficient based practices and implicit bias that holds these kids back from equity in our public education system.” Most Denver teachers advocate that as professionals, their intention to serve their students is the same regardless of what students are in their classroom.

“How about supportive leadership, coaching, more mental health support, co-teaching models, more plan time and smaller class sizes? You know, the things research says work and the things teachers ask for in every survey on this issue,” wrote one teacher in response to the bonus/merit pay conversation.

Regardless of opinions as to what should happen in DPS, all districts in Colorado have these ongoing issues. Because we have staff receiving public assistance due to low wages (which, by the way, is more expensive to taxpayers than actually adequately funding salaries to begin with), we will be watching both Denver and Jeffco and we hope you will as well.

Our education staff members do deserve equitable and adequate compensation and recognition for the valuable work they do.