Denver teachers are vowing to walk off the job Monday unless they can reach a last minute pay agreement with school leaders.
The administration of new Gov. Jared Polis decided Wednesday against intervening in the fight, giving teachers the legal right to strike. Polis joined Joe Barela, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, as Barela announced his decision not to get involved, a move that could have delayed the strike for up to 180 days.
Both said the teachers and the district are not that far apart.
Polis said teachers also told him privately that they planned to strike Monday if they do not reach a deal, but he said it's in the interest of both sides to reach a deal now rather than forcing the district to spend about $400,000 a day to keep schools open during a walkout.
"This represents an 11th hour opportunity over the next few days for both sides to close the gap over these limited, remaining issues," Polis said.
The district pays teachers bonuses for things like working in high-poverty schools or working in hard to fill positions, but teachers want more money in their base pay. According to an analysis by the state, the district and the union are only $300 apart a year on base annual teacher salaries. But differences remain on the size of bonuses for teachers working in high-poverty schools and in schools deemed high priority by the school district.
The school district believes the bonuses are an important part of making sure students in those schools are able to advance academically, but teachers say the pay system is complicated and makes it hard for them to predict their income.
"Educators do not want to strike, but we will," said Rob Gould, the lead negotiator for the Denver Classroom Teachers Association.
He added that negotiations are tentatively scheduled for Friday.
Union representatives said 93 percent of members voted to strike in an election last month. They had planned to go on strike Jan. 28, but that was put on hold after the school district asked the state to use its limited power to intervene in the dispute. As the teachers waited for the state's decision, they were not allowed to strike under Colorado law but are now free to do so.
"No teacher wants to strike, we would rather be teaching students in our classrooms," Denver teacher and DCTA President Henry Roman said in a statement. "But when the strike starts, we will be walking for our students."
The union represents 5,635 educators in the school system.