FILE - In this Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019, file photograph, a teacher wears a button on a union shirt in the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, the union's headquarters in south Denver. Teachers voted Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019, to authorize a strike, which would be the first called in 25 years in the state's largest school district. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

Colorado governor works to try to prevent teachers strike

January 23, 2019 - 4:14 pm

DENVER (AP) — Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said Wednesday he is seeking to prevent Denver teachers from walking off the job next week after they overwhelmingly voted to strike over pay.

Polis, who took office this month, said he would meet with representatives of the school district and teachers' union to see if he could "play a role in bringing them together." But the Democrat who has vowed to increase school funding declined to elaborate.

The teachers' union announced late Tuesday that 93 percent of members voted to strike after contract talks broke down last week.

The earliest teachers could legally walk off the job is Monday. However, the state labor department could also intervene and put the strike on hold for up to 180 days. It would be the first teacher walkout in 25 years.

In a statement, Denver superintendent Susana Cordova said the school district will ask the state to step in, but it was unclear what the labor department would do. Cordova, a former teacher who was recently hired as schools' chief, vowed to keep schools open if there is a strike while also calling on teachers to continue talking in the meantime.

The main sticking point is increasing base pay, including lessening teachers' reliance on one-time bonuses for things such as having students with high test scores or working in a high-poverty school. Teachers also wanted to earn more for continuing their education.

Union president Henry Roman said the district's bonus system has changed dramatically since voters approved funding for it in 2005. He said it leaves teachers dependent on earning bonuses for things that are largely outside their control. He said that has led to a high turnover rate for teachers seeking financial stability in districts with more traditional pay systems.

The union said the school district's offer fell $8 million short from the funding it wants to change the compensation system, an amount it claims the district could find by reducing administrators' bonuses and taking money out of a $64 million reserve.

The school district said its offer would mean an average 10-percent raise in the next school year and make the minimum starting salary for teachers $45,500, the second-highest in the Denver area.

According to the district's website, the starting salary is currently $39,851 and the average salary overall is $50,449.

The Denver vote came just after Los Angeles teachers voted to end a six-day strike after securing a 6-percent pay hike and a commitment to reduce class sizes.

Teachers hoped to build on the "Red4Ed" movement that began last year in West Virginia and moved to Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, and Washington state. It spread from conservative states with "right to work" laws that limit the ability to strike to the more liberal West Coast with strong unions.

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