Denver union, officials reconvene as school strike enters Day 2

DENVER (Reuters) – Thousands of Denver public school teachers walked picket lines for a second day on Tuesday, disrupting classes for some 92,000 students as union and school district officials were set to resume talks that broke down at the weekend.

In the latest in a series of strikes to hit the U.S. public school system, the teachers are seeking pay hikes and a new salary structure.

Statewide stoppages affected West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Arizona last year, and Los Angeles teachers reached a deal last month to reduce class sizes and raise salaries by 6 percent, ending a six-week walkout.

Talks in Denver broke down on Saturday, triggering the first walkout by teachers in the city since 1994. The two sides resumed talks on Tuesday morning.

Outside Columbian Elementary school, a dozen teachers picketed, including early childhood education specialist Traci McKeehan, 48, who said she was hopeful that a deal would be reached with a more predictable structure. The union says that structure is needed to maintain a stable workforce.

“In Denver, we’re losing teachers left and right,” said McKeehan, who was holding a sign that read, “We’d rather be teaching.”

Denver Public Schools has said its proposal would raise teachers’ pay by nearly 11 percent next year, while the union, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, has called that figure inflated.

A school district spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment before the resumption of talks.

On Monday, however, Public Schools Superintendent Susana Cordova told reporters that the district has already met many of the teachers’ demands to simplify their complicated pay structure.

“We’ve made really significant changes already,” Cordova said. “Many of the things I think that we hear our teachers complain about, actually aren’t about the proposal that we’ve put on the table, it’s about the current system. And many of those things I agree with as well.”

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District officials vowed to keep all 207 schools open through the strike, staffed by substitute teachers and administration personnel. But on Tuesday the district said it canceled pre-kindergarten classes.

Denver’s 5,650-member teachers’ union says a new pay scheme has sacrificed dependable cost-of-living wage hikes for limited bonuses offered for teaching in high-poverty areas and classes with problematic students.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock on Monday expressed support for the teachers’ pay demands and offered to help mediate the dispute.

Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver; Additional reporting by Jann Tracey in Denver and Gina Cherelus in New York; Writing and additional reporting by Peter Szekely in New York, Rich McKay in Atlanta and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by John Stonestreet and Matthew Lewis

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