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Denver teachers ask superintendent to 'come to the table' for higher pay

The teachers spoke at the Denver Public Schools board meeting, where they requested a bump in wages so they can afford the rising cost of living in the state.
Credit: Nelson Garcia
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DENVER - Teachers faced Denver Public School Superintendent Tom Boasberg and asked him to “come to the table to negotiate” at the DPS board meeting Thursday night.

“You said you feel too vulnerable. To teach is to be vulnerable, and we do it every day,” said Rebecka Hendricks, a math teacher.

“Teacher salaries are despicable when compared to the cost of living in Denver,” Hendricks said, adding that she and other teachers are considering leaving the profession due to low teacher pay.

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The comments came as about 30 teachers rallied outside the meeting to protest. The Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA), a union that represents 5,635 DPS educators, organized the protest.

“I am here today because I demand better budget transparency,” said Rebecca Basgal, who teaches ninth-grade math and was present at the rally.

Basgal said her job at an innovation school was cut last year due to “low student numbers,” but then a first-year teacher was hired to replace her.

“I was one of two teachers with the highest student growth for that year,” Basgal said. “I am also asking the board… to think about two important parts that come into play when it comes to funding — obtaining the funding and how the funding is spent. Keeping teachers in the profession and serving our kids is the most important.”

The teachers also said they were upset after district representatives failed to commit any of the $50.9 million in "new revenue" forecasted by the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) to teacher salary increases.

Erik Johnson, executive director of finance for DPS, said the CDE's $50.9 million increase in funding is a different financial forecast than that of the school district. DPS, he said, creates its own revenue forecast.

"DPS is a whole different animal," Johnson said. "The CDE can't take a real in-depth look at each district. They use broad, expansive forecasts. ... We all know that Denver is changing drastically, so we do our own forecast."

DPS forecasts a total program funding budget of $727 million, $14 million less than the $741 million budget projected by the CDE. DPS' total budget is about $1.1 billion.

"What the DCTA is not accounting for when they say we should put a $50.9 million increase into compensation, they're not taking into account that the total DPS forecast budget increase is about $36 million," Johnson said. "Additional new revenues bring that figure up to $43 million. We have to pass through a full $18 million straight into charter school's pockets. We have no option, that's state law."

That's according to a new state law that requires school districts to share money from voter-approved tax increases with charter schools starting in 2019-20.

DPS said in an email that it reached a five-year agreement with DCTA last fall, ratified with an 89 percent positive vote.

That agreement has several stipulations, including a 5.1 increase in base pay for teachers and specialized service providers.

"For compensation across all employees, that's about $25 million next year," Johnson said.

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DPS said it is also starting conversations with DCTA on how to best spend the roughly $34 million the district receives each year from the dedicated ProComp mill levy. That’s money that must be spent according to the terms of the mill levy that DCTA and the district jointly put to voters in 2005 and is separate from the five-year master agreement.

“The district believes that our conversations with DCTA regarding ProComp can be collaborative and focused on working together to design the best compensation system in Colorado,” DPS said in the email to 9NEWS.

DPS in March submitted a ProComp proposal that outlines how teachers can increase their base salary through things like obtaining advanced degrees and licenses.

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