DENVER (CBS4) – Negotiations between Denver Public Schools and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association were on hold Wednesday. Both sides expressed concern about how to come to an agreement just days before the union is set to vote on a strike.
"It's been really tough. It's been really stressful," said Troy Valentine, a civics and government teacher at Denver School of Innovation and Sustainable Design.
Valentine is in his first year teaching at that school, but has worked for five years in the district. He has attended many bargaining sessions for more than a year leading up to the negotiations taking place this week. He admits the profession he and others chose is not one that will ever pay as well as other jobs even though their experience and education may be comparable.
But he says the union is asking for teachers like him to get a competitive wage based on other districts and to manage expenses in a major city.
"It's always tough to teach," he said. "This isn't an easy job, and I didn't get into this job because I thought it was going to be easy."
His wife is also a teacher in the district, and they have a 3-year-old son. Valentine also shared he has $83,000 in student loans he still needs to pay off. He says, in other districts, he could make between 13,000-14,000 a year more for the same position.
"It's difficult to find that motivation when I know the possibility of a strike is in a week," he said. "A strike is a sacrifice and sacrifice is to pressure the district to pay us a fair wage."
Denver Public Schools has released multiple responses to negotiations online to share with the public its view of how the process is playing out with the union. Administrators say the proposal they have put on the table includes one of the highest starting rates for teachers in the metro area, and the average teacher seeing an increase in pay around 10 percent.
They also highlight a pathway to $100,000 for certain teachers based on experience and education. To achieve these changes, the district says it is making cuts at the administrative level and using $7 million from the central office to put into its compensation package.
"To help fund this proposal, we are making significant cuts to our Central Office," Susana Cordova said in a video posted online by the district. "We feel like we've made significant movement toward that middle ground and we're anxious to continue the work together."
Valentine says he is frustrated by the number of executives the district has employed. He thinks more concessions need to be made at the administrative level to bring up the pay of teachers. The amount quoted by the district, he believes should be more than doubled to a total of $20 million.
"If a strike happened, that means there's no income coming to our household," he said. "I do not have the money to pay my bills as it stands so if I miss a day of pay, I miss a week of pay, it impacts my family greatly."
The cost of the strike would force him to go straight from the picket line to his car so he could work for ride sharing services. It would be the only income while he and his wife are on strike and to cover major expenses like daycare for his son.
Both sides will meet again on Thursday and Friday. The union has scheduled a vote for Saturday, but would wait until after the holiday weekend on Tuesday to complete the process. A strike would not begin until the end of the month.
"Teachers are worried, administrators are worried," he said. "We're far closer to striking than striking a deal."
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