DENVER — Hours after the contract expired, Denver Public Schools (DPS) announced that it had reached a three-year tentative agreement with the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA).
Their current contract had expired at midnight Thursday. DCTA and DPS were negotiating the first new contract since 2019, when negotiations failed and teachers went on strike before ultimately approving a deal with the district.
The deal provides returning teachers with an average annual salary increase of 8.7%, a starting salary for DPS teachers of $50,130, and an additional district investment of $2.5 million dollars toward employee benefits, the district said.
“We have a lot to finish. Our biggest sticking points are around class size, caseload, compensation, benefits,” said Lynne Valencia-Hernandez, a longtime teacher in the district and chairperson of the DCTA bargaining team.
“We have made some big gains," she said. "We’ve made some great agreements, but those are some sticking points.”
On compensation, DCTA said it was asking for a 12% cost of living increase. That didn't include additional “steps and lanes” increases for teachers, which account for teachers’ levels of experience and education.
“It is incredibly difficult and expensive to live in Denver, as you may well know. The inflation rate is 8-9%. Many of our teachers are not able to afford to live in Denver metro because the rent is so high," Valencia-Hernandez said.
“Many of our teachers have to live far, far away from the schools where they teach," she said. "And they have to pay for gas for the long commute and put lots of mileage on their cars.”
The district's prior proposal called for a 6.2% base salary increase, which includes cost of living, as well as “steps and lanes.” DCTA said the cost of living portion of that proposed increase is 3.5%.
"We need a professional wage that is going to be sustainable so that teachers can focus on students and not have a second job, or third job after the school day is over," Valencia-Hernandez said.
The union is also calling for a smaller cap on class sizes. DCTA said the current cap is 35 students to a classroom. They propose a cap of 20 students per classroom for grades K-3, and a cap of 25 students per classroom for grades 4-8 and core high school classes.
It's not clear yet whether the tentative deal addresses class size.
Both sides agree Denver is an expensive place to live and work.
“One thing we know is front-of-mind for our teachers is the economy,” said Edwin Hudson, DPS chief of talent and part of the district’s bargaining team.
“Right now it’s difficult to live in Denver. We want to make sure they have competitive wages. We want to make sure we're competitive to other neighboring school [districts]," he said.
When the district and the union failed to reach an agreement during the last contract negotiations, teachers went on strike for the first time in 25 years. The 2019 strike lasted three days, ending with a new three-year contract.
Since the last contract negotiation, much has changed in the district – including leadership.
Former Superintendent Susana Cordova left DPS in late 2020 and was replaced by Dr. Alex Marrero. Hudson said the district and union built a lot of trust through the tough pandemic years, and the tone of the negotiations this time around has been “good.”
“I think some of that mistrust has been dispelled. I think an example of that is how we came together during COVID. We put together an MOU [memorandum of understanding] so we can work together … with our teachers,” he said. “That’s something we did together. … It was a very collegial and collaborative process. So we’re building on that. We’re building the trust. I don’t know that’s an issue as it's been in the past.”
But the union has challenged some of the district’s data, or portrayal of information. Valencia-Hernandez said there was still mistrust between teachers and the district.
DPS has been negotiating with other unions, as well. This week, the district said it reached three-year agreements with other employee organizations that raised the minimum wage for paraprofessionals to $20 per hour. The district said the minimum wage for all employees will increase to $20 per hour by the 2024-25 school year.
Additionally, DPS said wages increased this month for campus safety officers, food service professionals, bus drivers and transportation maintenance employees.
SUGGESTED VIDEOS: Education stories from 9NEWS