Alan Gottlieb

Alan Gottlieb

Denver Public Schools, the state’s largest public school district, has cancelled school March 19. It’s a short-notice concession to the teachers union, allowing teachers to be paid for marching on the State Capitol and lobbying legislators during the Colorado Education Association’s Day of Action. 

A resolution pushed by one of DPS’ new board members at the behest of the Colorado Education Association and unanimously approved by the school board Feb. 20 paved the way for the extra day off for teachers.

DPS is not alone in making this questionable decision. Jeffco, the second-largest school district in Colorado, made an identical move last week. And eight smaller districts as well as two charter school networks — DSST and STRIVE Prep — also decided to cancel classes March 19.

But as everyone’s mother used to say, if Johnny decided to jump off a bridge, would you do it too? Think for yourself!

It will also leave parents scrambling to find coverage for their kids. More well-off, salaried parents will probably manage — most can stay home for a day and be paid anyway. But many hourly-wage workers, who tend to be lower-income, don’t get paid if they miss work. While board members who consider themselves progressives pushed this resolution, it places a huge burden on the backs of the neediest families they ostensibly ran to represent.

And it comes with a hefty price-tag. A day of teacher pay costs DPS about $2.5 million, according to the DPS finance office.

It’s not uncommon to hear parents grouse about the number of days Denver kids aren’t in school, most often Mondays, set aside as "non-contact" teacher-planning or professional-development days. 

According to the district calendar, there are 6.5 such days during the 2019-20 school year, one of which is set aside for parent-teacher conferences. There’s also a week for Thanksgiving vacation, two full weeks at Christmas, and a week for spring break, as well as the 2½-month summer break.

In addition, DPS has canceled classes twice so far this school year because of snow. And Denver’s winter can extend into May, so more cancellations are possible. 

Given those realities, it’s hard to see how springing a new non-contact day on parents so teachers can lobby (or not, as each individual sees fit) on March 19 benefits kids. But that is what DCTA-endorsed board member Scott Baldermann, who represents southeast Denver, pushed with the resolution he put forward.

Baldermann made it clear he was serving as a spokesperson for the DCTA in bringing forward the resolution. “I guess I’m just trying to honor what our teachers union and teachers are asking,” Baldermann said at a board work session in February.

Not all of his colleagues were on board initially. “The problem that I have is this seems like a really substantive conversation we haven’t had,” Angela Cobian, who represents southwest Denver, said during the work session. “...there are additional things connected to (this issue) that seem really sensitive that I think would require more of a board conversation.”`

In the end, though, Cobian and all her colleagues voted in favor of the resolution.

Alan Gottlieb has been an education journalist and policy expert in Denver for 25 years.

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