As you may have heard, Denver teachers will be voting whether to strike in the next few days. They are paid under a pay-for-performance arrangement called ProComp, which was sold to them as a way to be paid fairly, but it hasn’t panned out that way.

The ProComp contract expires on January 18, 2019, and negotiations with the district have not gone well.

The Fair Pay for Denver Teachers group states that “Denver teachers have the highest cost of living and the third LOWEST average teacher salary in the metro area. Teachers can’t afford to live and are leaving DPS. This turnover affects students. In the long term, “Fair Pay” is about the quality of teachers and schools we want for students in Denver.”

The district has put out a video with an “update” of the negotiations with the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, the affiliate of the National Education Association that represents union teachers in Denver Public Schools.

The following is the personal testimony of Liz Fant, a veteran teacher and a member of the Green Party.

This is my 23rd year of teaching in DPS. I remember when ProComp was presented to us. It seemed like a viable way for teachers to increase their pay. Then Michael Bennet (former DPS superintendent and now U.S. Senator) changed major components of it almost immediately.

I taught at West High School for 11 years. When I started, we were a vibrant community with many different programs, ELA-S (English language program for Spanish-speaking students), DCIS! (international studies), art, music, Chinese and Italian classes, just to name a few. Year by year as the charter school West Denver Prep (now STRIVE) siphoned off students, we were dismantled. We were made to feel like horrible teachers, that it was our fault that students were unsuccessful. Who took the students that the charters or other “successful” schools didn’t want at any point in the school year? Who did the work that the other “successful” schools didn’t want to do? We did. And yet the other schools were/are praised for their excellence.

I saw the writing on the wall and made a move as I knew that whatever school would be put in our place, it would not want the teachers who had been there. Oh wow! CEC (Career Education Center) was a country club when I started. They cherry-picked the well-behaved students who could read and do math! Their parents answered the phone when I called! A bonus for being a Green school? What is this???? I was all of a sudden a “good” teacher?  Now that CEC is a lottery (the method used to pick students to attend the school) and now that we have the same challenges that other schools face, now we are rated as less effective.

Charter schools don’t allow their teachers to organize. Charter schools don’t have to engage in collective bargaining. Teachers at charter schools are at-will employees. But are they actually successful? Yes, some do serve all students who enroll. But I have heard that parents often have to commit to attending several meetings throughout the school year and put in a certain amount of volunteer hours. Regular public schools don’t get to require volunteer hours and engagement! They also show less successful students the door. Regular public schools can’t do that!

What have you done DPS? You have catered to the desires of those who want to advance their careers by creating pockets of “success” at the expense of students whose families are not privileged! What does this have to do with bargaining? All of these schools have administrators. Schools within a school have more upper level management than is needed. They don’t have to play by the same rules. They can overwork teachers, chew them up and spit them out because another young idealistic teacher is waiting in line to take their place.

DPS created this problem and now it expects regular public school teachers to take it on the chin. Can’t you see that the greed of our capitalistic society is causing us all to crumble under the inequality created by the privileged? We should be a district that serves ALL students together in our neighborhood schools providing extra support for those who don’t have the privileges of the middle/upper class. You shouldn’t be approving new charters left and right. You should be working to create communities of success that include ALL students and ALL families. And teachers serving in schools that are true public schools deserve a living wage at the beginning, middle and end of their careers!