DENVER (CBS4) - An agreement between the Denver teachers' union and Denver Public Schools has been reached, bringing a resolution to a three-day strike that caused a major disruption to the district's operations this week. It was the first time in 25 years that public school teachers in the city had gone on strike.
The strike in Colorado's biggest school district happened as a result of administrators and the union's failure to reach an agreement on salary and incentives issues after more than a year of bargaining. It ended early Thursday morning after bargaining talks that started Wednesday, continued overnight and finally came to an end Thursday before daybreak.
Teachers returned to class Thursday, and preschool classes that were canceled when the strike started will resume on Friday.
Henry Roman, president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, said that the "agreement is a win, plain and simple: for our students; for our educators; and for our communities. ... No longer will our students see their education disrupted because their teachers cannot afford to stay in their classrooms."
In a statement, DPS said the agreement adds $23 million in teacher pay, including an average base salary increase of 11.7 percent next year and cost of living increases the following two years. Incentives remain for teaching in the highest poverty and Title I schools as well as hard-to-fill positions.
"I'm excited for our students in Denver, they are going to be able to retain their experienced educators, and we really made a win today for our kids, so I'm excited," said Rob Gould, DCTA lead negotiator.
Superintendent Susana Cordova called the agreement a "strong investment in our teachers -- in both their base salary and the equity incentives."
"I think it's great. I think it's a really great day for our teachers and our specialized service providers. The most important thing we can do is get our schools back to normal and getting this agreement was the first step," said Cordova.
The DCTA first voted to strike on Jan. 22 but it was delayed as state leaders weighed whether to intervene. On Feb. 6 the state opted against the move, clearing the way for a final authorization of the strike last Saturday.
Teachers, many wearing red shirts, began picketing outside their schools on Monday morning. At some schools, students walked out of classes to join their teachers on the picket lines.
About 60 percent of the teachers in DPS belong to the DCTA. Once the strike got underway, classes were called off for about 5,000 pre-schoolers but everywhere else school remained in session despite the absence of all those teachers. Substitutes and administrators filled the void, but some parents and students were dissatisfied with the classroom experience.
"We had subs all day, and they made us do work that was totally irrelevant to anything we've learned throughout the whole year," one student told CBS4.
Teachers left the picket lines on Monday afternoon and held a large rally outside the state Capitol.
"We are sending a strong message to the district that they can't do our job without us," DCTA spokesman Rob Gould said. "We're going to get a bargain that not only supports teachers, but it supports our students from here on."
Cordova held a news conference on Monday, saying "the goal of negotiations is to get closer to the middle. DPS is way passed the middle in terms of what we have offered at this point."
The two sides returned to the bargaining table on Tuesday at the Denver Central Library. No deal was reached in those heavily attended public sessions, but the district and teachers sent out a joint statement at the end of the day stating progress had been made.
As Tuesday's talks were going on, teachers marched from Denver's East High School to Civic Center Park where they staged another rally.
On Wednesday, the strike's third day, both sides continued bargaining sessions and picketing outside schools continued. Some teachers took their message to the overpasses on Interstate 25.
The day also included another rally at Civic Center Park.
The new agreement still needs to be ratified by the full union membership.
After the deal was reached early Thursday morning, Gov. Jared Polis issued a statement.
"I am pleased that after months of negotiations, both sides stepped up, worked together, and found a solution that works for our district, our educators, our parents, and most importantly, our children."
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