DENVER (Reuters) – Denver public school teachers walked off the job on Monday to demand higher wages, disrupting classes for some 92,000 students in the latest of a wave of strikes by U.S. educators over the past year.
The walkout comes the month after a six-day strike by Los Angeles schoolteachers ended in a deal to reduce class sizes and raise salaries by 6 percent, and follows statewide actions last year in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Arizona.
Negotiations between Denver’s 5,650-member teachers’ union and the school district broke down over the weekend over whether to prioritize general wage increases or incentives for teachers working in high-poverty areas and challenging classrooms.
The school district planned to keep schools open by staffing classes with substitute teachers and administration staff.
Rob Gould, a spokesman for the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, said that after 15 months of bargaining, the district has been “unwilling” to listen.
“We’re hoping they come to the table tomorrow ready to listen so we can get back to work because our teachers want to be in the classrooms with their kids,” Gould told a news conference broadcast by Denver’s ABC-TV affiliate on Monday shortly before the strike began.
Hundreds of teachers and some students were weathering the 19-degree Fahrenheit (minus 7 Celsius) temperatures in Denver as they marched through snowy streets chanting and holding protest signs, according to video footage from local media reports and Twitter.
“Marching in #Solidarity with @DenverTeachers this morning,” wrote Colorado state Representative Emily Sirota on Twitter. “Incredible support from the community, chanting and honking and bringing supplies.”
Denver Public Schools Superintendent Susana Cordova said the district offered a pay increase of nearly 11 percent next year, boosting the average salary for teachers to $61,000, from $55,000.
“Despite the union’s refusal to continue negotiating, we remain committed to working with the leadership of the DCTA to end this strike,” she said.
A representative from the school district did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The dispute has centered on a Denver Public Schools incentive pay package offering bonuses for educators to work in low-income schools or teach difficult subjects. Administrators say it is needed to attract and retain quality educators.
But the union, which considers such incentives unpredictable, prefers a more traditional compensation package with a higher base salary and increases for teachers who further their education or training.
Union and district negotiators deadlocked during a bargaining session on Saturday night, setting the stage for the strike, the first in the city since a five-day walkout in 1994.
All of the district’s 207 schools held classes on Monday, but preschool programs for young children were canceled.
Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver; Additional reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Matthew Lewis