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Educational sign language interpreters lobby the Denver school board in September 2018 to recognize their unionization bid.

Educational sign language interpreters lobby the Denver school board in September 2018 to recognize their unionization bid.

Sign language interpreters, career and tech educators to join Denver teachers union

After more than a year of public advocacy, the educational sign language interpreters who work in Denver schools will be allowed to join the growing Denver teachers union, resulting in imminent raises.

The interpreters have said unionizing would enable them to be recognized, compensated, and protected like most other district employees. They also emphasized the benefits for what one interpreter called “a very specific and complex group of students.”

“Setting this precedent will help to recruit and retain the most highly qualified educational sign language interpreters,” interpreter Emily Abernathy told the school board in March, “and in so doing, directly improve the lives of [deaf and hard of hearing] students.”

Another group of educators that advocated to be part of the union — career and technical educators, who teach auto mechanics, culinary arts, and other classes — will also join.

Denver Public Schools Superintendent Susana Cordova announced at a school board meeting Thursday that both groups had signed “memorandums of understanding” with the district allowing them to be integrated into the Denver Classroom Teachers Association.

“For those of you who have been attending our board meetings for the past year, you’ve heard the passion and the commitment that has come out in public comment,” Cordova said, referring to both groups. “We’re here to say that advocacy does make a difference. We want to thank everyone for the passion that you have expressed for the work that you do.”

The two groups are small. The district employs about 15 educational sign language interpreters who work with students who are deaf and hard of hearing, and about 45 career and technical educators, according to the union. About 3,900 teachers, nurses, psychologists, counselors, and others already belong to the Denver Classroom Teachers Association.

The union’s ranks grew in the runup to a strike in February to demand fundamental changes to the way teachers and other members are paid. The final agreement included an average raise of nearly 12% this year, as well as a return to a more traditional salary schedule.

The interpreters and career and technical educators won’t follow the same salary schedule as the teachers. But they, too, will get raises this year.

The starting pay for interpreters will rise 5.5%, going from $37,568 to $39,644, according to the district. The highest possible salary an interpreter can earn will go from $48,255 to $49,293.

Per state rules, educational sign language interpreters must have at least a two-year college degree and earn a score of 3.5 out of 5 on a skills test.

The starting pay for career and technical educators will rise 2%, going from $49,748 to $50,763 this year. The highest possible salary will go from $83,904 to $85,616. Career and technical educators must have at least five years of work experience to be hired by the district.

By comparison, the teacher salary schedule starts at $45,800 for a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree and maxes out at $100,000 for a teacher with a doctorate and at least 20 years of experience.

Lawrence Garcia, executive director of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, said the union welcomes the addition of the new groups.

“We’re extremely happy to have them be part of our family,” he said.