DENVER — The same day teachers started voting on a strike, Superintendent Susana Cordova said substitutes will be getting paid double the normal rate if teachers are absent for that.

Cordova told 9NEWS the district will be using money that would have gone toward striking teachers.

“If we have teachers who are striking, they aren’t being paid,” said Cordova, “so, the funds that would have gone to pay our teachers, we’ll use to pay our substitutes.”

The public will not know whether the union will strike or not until the voting is complete Tuesday night, but teachers said they are ready to move forward.

Teachers' Stories

“We are not voting on the last contract that the district gave us, we are voting to strike,” said Alexander Edwards, a special needs teacher with Denver Public Schools. “I work roughly 50-60 hours a week.  I still can’t make enough to move out of my parents' home.”

Cal Hosman has been with the district for 18 years, he’s been delivering pizza on the weekends for extra income. “I work two jobs and I’m currently about to start doing homebound in addition to that because we can’t afford to live,” he said. “I am ready to strike.”

Their demands are simple: more money. But they’re not seeing eye to eye with the district.

“We are 1 percent difference right now,” said Edwards, “that’s $8 million.”

The District’s Response

“We’re not talking about a 1 percent increase to our teachers, we’re talking about a 10 percent increase to our teachers,” said Cordova. “Our teachers are asking for about a 12 and a half increase. I think a 10 percent increase is incredibly generous and incredibly competitive.”

Superintendent Susana Cordova said that with their proposal, some teachers will be getting an $11,000 - $15,000 increase.

There’s one thing she’s not budging on. “Where we will not compromise is on ensuring that we have funds to pay the teachers that work in our highest poverty schools,” she said. “The union’s proposal doesn’t do that.”

If they tried to create a proposal with the union’s base salary and the district’s incentives, Cordova said it would double the shortfall.

“It’s no longer 8 million that we’re short, it’s 16 million that we’re short,” she said. “The amount of money they have taken out of incentives they have placed into their base and that’s where we’re not willing to compromise.”

One of the biggest complaints from teachers was the number of administrators and how much they were getting paid.

“They try to put in money into things that we do not need or do not currently work,” Edwards said.

Cordova campaigned on cutting from the central office or the administration. 

“The vast majority of the cuts from central office will go into teacher compensation,” she said.

Cordova has been on the job for 11 days counting weekends, but she said she hasn’t had enough time to look at cuts because she’s too busy negotiating.

If teachers do go on strike and walk out of their classrooms, Cordova said schools are going to stay open. “We will have substitute teachers,” she explained. “All the central office staff who are licensed will be deployed to our schools.”

She said she’s willing to pay substitute teachers double. Granted, that’s less than what teachers are getting paid now, but 9NEWS did ask why not just use that money for teachers' salaries?

“If we have teachers who are striking, they aren’t being paid,” she explained. “The funds that would have gone to pay our teachers, we’ll use to pay our substitutes.”

State’s Intervention

If teachers decide to strike, the governor and Department of Labor can intervene. Both told 9NEWS they are monitoring the situation.

The Department of Labor can intervene only if they receive requests from both parties in the form of a statement or formal notice. The statement needs to say where they are in the dispute and their demands. If only one party requests the intervention, the Department of Labor will notify the other party and give them a copy of the request. The other party gets 10 days to respond whether they want the department to intervene.

Once they submit their response, the Department of Labor will take 14 days to review and decide. If the second party declines intervention, the director of the Division of Labor Standards and Statistics will not be able to intervene. But the executive director has statutory authority to determine if the matter is of public interest and warrants an intervention.

It’s important to note that the Department of Labor is not deciding whether education, teachers or students are of public interest, rather if intervening is of public interest. Even if the department doesn’t hear from either party, the executive director still has the authority to intervene.

Ways Department of Labor Can Intervene

The only tools available to the Department of Labor are arbitration, mediation, conciliation and fact-finding. The department does not have the authority to impose working conditions on the teachers nor to impose contract detail on the school district.

It has no immediate authority to allocate extra state funds for salaries unless legislators pass something into law. If the state decides to intervene they would then decide if staying in classrooms is a condition of the intervention, thereby making striking illegal.

RELATED | Mom worries about potential strike's impact on her kids

Answering Your Questions

On Twitter, we asked viewers to send questions for Superintendent Cordova.

@RevJasperP asked, "Why allow a strike that will punish students and families and then reach a deal in a week? Why not do the work now and spare the pain?"

Here's Superintendent Cordova's response:

@TooDopeTeachers wrote, "Ask her why she does not believe that Professional Development Units should not be base building. And ask her how she feels having to handle these negotiations in the wake of her predecessor’s decision to pass this dispute on to her."

Superintendent Cordova had this response:

SUGGESTED VIDEOS | Local stories from 9NEWS