Colorado

Denver Public Schools to increase minimum wage with pension savings

PHOTO: Denver Public Schools
Gov. John Hickenlooper, surrounded by students from DCIS Montbello and NCAS - Noel Community Arts School, signs a bill changing Denver Public Schools' PERA contributions.

Denver Public Schools officials plan to set a new organization-wide minimum wage and increase stipends for teachers in high-needs schools next year using funds that would otherwise have been earmarked for pensions.

A bill that reduces the amount the district contributes each year to PERA, the state’s pension fund, was signed into law today. The new law frees up approximately $20 million per year.

DPS had previously contributed to PERA at a higher rate than other districts in the state and as a result has a retirement fund that is more fully funded than the rest of the state. (Read this Denver Post story for more on Denver Public Schools and PERA.)

“I was delighted to see the law pass to provide for equity between DPS and the state’s other school districts and fulfill the promise of the PERA merger.” said DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg.

DPS officials laid out their plans for the new funds at Gov. John Hickenlooper’s bill signing event this morning.

The new minimum wage for Denver school employees will be $12 per hour. The increase will affect some 1,700 employees, including paraprofessionals, cafeteria workers, and custodial staff. Some of those employees are currently paid $9 per hour.

DPS will double its subsidy for health insurance from $750 per year to $1,500 per year.

The district plans to use the funds to add 30 teachers to its turnaround schools, to hire an additional 150 teachers in each of the next two years, and to expand its teacher leadership program.

DPS also plans to create a new set of financial incentives for teachers in 30 high-poverty, challenging schools. (Teachers across the district are slated to get a 5.6 percent raise next year.) Teachers would receive between $2,000 to $4,000 depending their evaluation score.

Boasberg said those changes were spurred partly by the recommendations of a task force focused on teacher retention in high-needs schools.

Denver Classroom Teachers Association representatives had advocated for some PERA funds to go to teachers, but one representative said DCTA had not given input on the proposal laid out at the bill signing.

union power

Charter teachers won big in nation’s first strike. What now?

PHOTO: Yana Kunichoff / Chalkbeat
Teachers from Acero charter schools in Chicago protest stalled negotiations Oct. 24, 2018, as they readied to vote on authorizing a strike.

Some 500 unionized teachers joined in the nation’s first charter strike last week, and succeeded in negotiating wage increases, smaller class sizes and a shorter school day. Their gains could foreshadow next year’s citywide contract negotiations — between the Chicago Teachers Union, with its contract expiring in June, and Chicago Public Schools.

“The issue of class size is going to be huge,” said Chris Geovanis, the union’s director of communications. “It is a critically important issue in every school.”

Unlike their counterparts in charters, though, teachers who work at district-run schools can’t technically go on strike to push through a cap on the number of students per class. That’s because the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act defines what issues non-charter public school teachers can bargain over, and what issues can lead to a strike.

An impasse on issues of compensation or those related to working conditions, such as length of the school day or teacher evaluations, could precipitate a strike. But disagreements over class sizes or school closures, among other issues, cannot be the basis for a strike.

The number of students per class has long been a point of contention among both district and charter school teachers.

Educators at Acero had hopes of pushing the network to limit class sizes to 24-28 students, depending on the grade. However, as Acero teachers capped their fourth day on the picket line, they reached an agreement with the charter operator on a cap of 30 students — down from the current cap of 32 students.

Andy Crooks, a special education apprentice, also known as a teacher’s aide, at Acero’s Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz school and a member of the teachers bargaining team, said that even having two fewer students in a classroom would make a huge difference.

“You really do get a lot more time with your students,” Crooks said. “And if you are thinking about kindergarten in particular, two less 5-year-olds really can help set the tone of the classroom.”

In district-run schools, classes are capped at 28 students in kindergarten through third grade, and at 31 students in fourth through sixth grade. But a survey by the advocacy group Parents 4 Teachers, which supports educators taking on inequality, found that during the 2017-2018 school year, 21 percent of K-8 classrooms had more students than district guidelines allowed. In 18 elementary school classrooms, there were 40 or more students.

The issue came up at last week’s Board of Education meeting, at which Ivette Hernandez, a parent of a first-grader at Virgil Grissom Elementary School in the city’s Hegewisch neighborhood, said her son’s classes have had more than 30 students in them. When the children are so young and active — and when they come into classrooms at so many different skill levels — “the teachers can’t handle 30 kids in one class,” she told the board.

Alderman Sue Garza, a former counselor, accompanied Hernandez. She also spoke before the board about classroom overcrowding — worrying aloud that, in some grades at one school in particular, the number of students exceeded the building’s fire codes. (Board chair Frank Clark said a district team would visit the school to ensure compliance fire safety policies.)

While the Chicago Teachers Union aren’t technically allowed to strike over class sizes, the union does have a history of pushing the envelope when it comes to bargaining.

Back in 2012, when the Chicago Teachers Union last went on strike, they ended up being able to secure the first limit on class sizes in 20 years because the district permitted the union to bargain over class size.

They also led a bargaining campaign that included discussion over racial disparities in Chicago education and school closures, arguing that these trends impacted the working conditions of teachers.

“Even if you can’t force an employer to bargain over an issue, you can push them to bargain over the impact of an issue,” Bob Bruno, a labor professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, explained.

The Chicago Teachers Union also emerged from its 2012 negotiations with guarantees of additional “wraparound services,” such as access to onsite social workers and school counselors.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

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