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Liveblog: Follow Denver’s teacher pay negotiations here

Eagleton Elementary School first grade teacher Valerie Lovato, left, and East High School French teacher Tiffany Choi hold up signs as the Denver teachers union negotiates with district officials.
Eagleton Elementary School first grade teacher Valerie Lovato, left, and East High School French teacher Tiffany Choi hold up signs as the Denver teachers union negotiates with district officials.
Michael Ciaglo/Special to the Denver Post

Denver Public Schools administrators and Denver Classroom Teachers Association, the teachers union, are scheduled to meet all day Thursday and Friday, if necessary, to try to reach an agreement on the district’s controversial pay-for-performance system, ProComp. We’ll be updating this post as there is news to report. Find more about the negotiations here.

No deal

Friday, 10:30 p.m.: The district and union failed to reach a deal and a strike vote will begin Saturday.

After yet another long break to crunch numbers, district negotiators returned to the bargaining table with less than two hours remaining before the expiration of the district’s ProComp agreement.

Superintendent Susana Cordova said administrators were concerned that the union’s most recent offer was its last and best. The district proposed some change to the structure of the deal, but did not come up in dollars.

That was enough for the union bargaining team to call it a night about an hour and a half before the deadline.

“We came here tonight in good faith,” said Rob Gould, a special education teacher and member of the bargaining team. “We came to correct a long outstanding problem in Denver. We made movement tonight, and we’re going to talk to our teachers tomorrow.”

Cordova looked to her colleagues at the negotiating table.

“OK,” she said to them. Then they left the room, packed with red T-shirt-clad teachers and their supporters.

There will be two voting sessions — Saturday and Tuesday. For a strike to come off, two-thirds of union members who vote must agree to it, said union president Henry Roman. The earliest teachers would walk out is Jan. 28.

$1,750 vs. $2,500

Friday, 9:10 p.m.: Denver Superintendent Susana Cordova has said bonuses for teachers in high-poverty schools is a top priority and a line that she’ll hold. When the union returned to the negotiating table a little before 9 p.m., they acknowledged that by bumping up their proposed incentive from $1,500 to $1,750.

The union also agreed to certain caps on how quickly teachers could leverage in-district professional development for raises. But like the district before, they did not budge on money. They said this additional incentive, which more than 70 percent of teachers qualify for, could come from administrative bonuses or reserves.

But it’s still less than the district proposal of $2,500 for high-poverty schools and for teachers who return to certain high-priority schools. These bonuses are at the heart of the ProComp system, approved by Denver voters in 2005. Denver Public Schools general counsel Michelle Berge said the union proposal “involves gutting” the incentives.

In meaningful ways, the two sides are as far apart as they were 12 hours ago.

No more money

Friday, 5:15 p.m.: Denver Public Schools administrators came back with a counteroffer after four hours of calculations, and it was this: Denver teachers would have the opportunity to move up a “lane” into a different pay category through additional education without having to earn a master’s degree. They brought no additional money to the $20.5 million that the district has offered to put toward increasing teacher pay.

While the offer brought the district’s salary schedule a bit closer to the union’s in structure, the union negotiators responded strongly to the idea that there is not more money to be had. Roughly $8 million separate the two sides. Rob Gould, a special education teacher and member of the bargaining team, pointed to more than $4 million in bonuses that administrators got last year, with many individual bonuses equivalent to half a year’s pay for a beginning teacher. Union President Henry Roman cited the district’s $67 million reserve and said the district does not need to bank so much taxpayer money.

“If there is a strike, it will be because of your unwillingness to invest in a system that will ensure the students of Denver can have a high-quality education in every classroom,” Gould said.

Becca Hendricks, also a member of the bargaining team, described driving for Lyft, delivering meals, and tutoring to make ends meet — and still having to move out of Denver, even with 11 years of experience and a master’s degree.

“I’m 33 years old, and I have a roommate,” she said. “My parents warned me, but my high school teachers were able to afford houses. I had that modest expectation.”

The district offer represents a roughly 4.5 percent increase in the $436 million it spends on teacher compensation each year, while the union plan would be a 6.4 percent increase.

But the disagreement is not just about the amount of money.

Superintendent Susana Cordova said the district would not budge on the bonuses it gives to teachers in high-poverty schools. The additional value of those bonuses, compared to the union proposal, is nearly enough to close the gap between the two sides. The district says retention at schools with the bonuses has gone up, and that the bonuses are key to reducing achievement gaps by keeping experienced teachers in challenging schools.

Brian Weaver, also a teacher on the bargaining unit, said that class size and the emotional toll of not having resources to help students is a much bigger driver of turnover.

“Not one of those teachers has said, ‘I would stay if the bonuses are higher,'” he said. “I have had teachers come to me and say they just can’t handle it with this class size.”

The union is now considering its next moves. The ProComp agreement under discussion expires at midnight.

Back at bargaining

Friday, 12:40 p.m.: The two sides convened a little after noon for the first time on Friday. It was not to exchange proposals, but to discuss the implications of an error. Denver Public Schools officials realized they had not fully accounted for the impact of retaining more senior, higher paid teachers, which means their own proposal costs $3 million more than they had thought. This is good in some ways. It’s good for students that their teachers returned to their schools, and it brings the two sides closer together on total dollar amount — though they’re still roughly $8 million apart.

But reaching a deal remains complicated, and the time it took to understand the implications of the newly discovered costs was time not spent developing a counterproposal.

Superintendent Susana Cordova said the district continues to believe very strongly in the value of incentives for teachers in high-poverty schools, which cost between $7 million and $8 million a year. Neither the administration nor the school board wants to give these up, and that means that money isn’t available to change the salary schedule closer to the union’s.

The two sides also remain far apart on the value of professional development units. The district fears that without caps, teachers could move up multiple salary categories in a year, increasing their pay too quickly. Union negotiators believe that fear is unfounded, given what is required by these training units and the realities of teacher workload.

The district is now back to the drawing board.

Cordova said the work is challenging, but they will not stop.

“We are trying to determine if, with the budget that we’re at, which is a higher budget than we thought, can we put together a proposal that is a better offer for our teachers than we already have,” she said.

Friday, 10:30 a.m.: Denver Public Schools administrators and the bargaining unit of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association are back at work, caucusing separately, Friday morning. Thursday wrapped up with some small progress and a generally positive feel — but still a lot of ground to cover before a deal could be reached. You can read our story here.

Stay tuned

Thursday, 6:45 p.m.: We’ll reconvene in the morning. District officials plan to work late preparing their response to the union’s offer. We’ll be back on Friday.

Keep on

Thursday, 6:05 p.m.: Bargaining team member Rob Gould said the spreadsheets “would make you cry.” Most of the afternoon passed with the two sides trying to get to the bottom of some errors in the union’s offer from this morning, but the resolution seemed like a happy one. Union negotiators believe their counteroffer actually saves $2.5 million.

“I want to say thank you to the district,” Gould said. “This is really hard.”

“It’s really hard,” Superintendent Susana Cordova agreed.

With everyone relaxed and smiling, the district went back to work on the math and figure out a response. This is very different than Tuesday, when teachers in the audience waited and waited for a response that never came. Cordova said the district will first figure out how long their analysis will take, then tell union supporters if it makes more sense to keep working tonight or to reconvene in the morning.

This progress comes after community members and religious leaders from the Industrial Areas Foundation spoke first to the teachers to express their support and then delivered a message directly to Cordova in an upstairs office. They said her message to the community — expressed at a school board meeting and an email to parents Wednesday — that framed the debate as one of values made it seem as if district officials cared more about the fate of children than the teachers who work with them every day.

“This is not your district,” said retired teacher and member of the Jewish congregation B’nai Havurah Susan Cooper. “It is our district.”

Cordova said that was never her intent, that she knows that the district proposal also represents its values — and that people can have shared values but different ways of getting there.

“I would not have taken this job if I did not believe deeply in our teachers,” she said.

Behind the scenes

Thursday, 3:15 p.m.: School district labor negotiations take place in public in Colorado. The two sides can meet privately to work out their own positions — known as caucusing — but once they’re bargaining, those discussions must take place in public.

Representatives of the Denver teachers union charged Thursday morning that school board member Barbara O’Brien had violated that principle by reaching out privately to union representatives and offering one-on-one meetings with the district’s chief financial officer, Mark Ferrandino.

Pam Shamburg, the union’s executive director, described it as effort to “circumvent this table.”

“Please pass the message to Barbara that this is illegal,” special education teacher Rob Gould, a member of the bargaining team, said.

Ferrandino looked startled and confused by the accusation, and Superintendent Susana Cordova quickly said she “100 percent agreed” that bargaining happens in public at the table.

Reached by phone, O’Brien said she did not intend to go around the bargaining teams and that she did not engage in bargaining. She said she reached out to someone she’s known for years with the National Education Association, the national teachers union, to see if “a fresh set of eyes” would help the two sides make progress.

“I didn’t for a second think she would take the district side,” O’Brien said. “I’ve been involved with enough negotiations over the years to know that sometimes it helps to have some fresh energy when everyone is getting tired. … I did offer that if she wanted to look at the district proposal and talk about the numbers, then Mark is the best numbers person we have.”

O’Brien has not attended any of the bargaining sessions, unlike some of her colleagues, something for which the union has criticized her.

“I don’t believe that’s the role of a school board member,” she said. “We have a negotiating team, and I trust them.”

One step forward

Thursday, 2:30 p.m.: Thursday’s negotiations between Denver Public Schools administrators and the teachers union began with tense verbal sparring. But after an hour focused on the district’s concerns with the union’s proposed salary schedule and another three hours of private conversations about the details, the two sides have — at the very least — something to talk about.

The union has agreed to shave $2 million off their request for more teacher pay, and the district is rerunning its own analysis.

This represents progress from Tuesday, when the district negotiating team arrived expecting a union counterproposal and, when one was not forthcoming, did not return to the table even as more and more teachers arrived to observe. That long wait left some hard feelings that had to be hashed out Thursday before everyone could get down to business.

The district and the union are negotiating the terms for Denver’s pay-for-performance system known as ProComp, which provides teachers bonuses on top of their base salary for things like good evaluations, working in a high-poverty school, or working in a school with high ratings. The deadline to reach a deal is Friday, and if the two sides cannot agree, the union will hold strike votes on Saturday and Tuesday.

The district has moved away from much of the bonus structure that previously characterized ProComp and that many teachers complained introduced too much uncertainty into their pay. Both sides have presented more traditional “steps and lanes” salary schedules in which teachers get raises for years of service and for earning additional education and credentials.

The union proposal puts more money into base pay and provides more opportunity to move up before earning a master’s degree. The district proposal provides additional ways to advance, such as gaining national certification or reaching 10 years of service, which district officials see as a way to reward longevity without tying it to educational attainment. The district proposal also keeps more money for bonuses.

Much of the disagreement relates to the structure of the schedules and how each rewards teachers for different things, but underlying that is the question of money. The union proposal will cost more. Denver Superintendent Susana Cordova said the district has put in the money that it can — an additional $23 million toward compensation — while the union wants the district to come up with even more.

“You haven’t been putting in the money that you should have over the last 10 years,” Rob Gould, a special education teacher and member of the bargaining team, said during the morning session. “I get it, if I hadn’t been paying my bills for the last 10 years, I would have a hard time catching up too.”

Cordova said she feared the two sides aren’t operating from the same financial assumptions.

But for now, at least, the two sides are talking.

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