By Colleen Slevin, The Associated Press
Denver school officials asked the state on Wednesday to intervene in its pay dispute with teachers, a move that will delay a strike that had been scheduled to start Monday.
Denver Public Schools asked for help from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment after teachers overwhelmingly voted to strike. The department will ask the teachers’ union to respond to the district’s request. Until they do and the department decides whether to get involved, the union cannot strike.
That process could take up to 24 days — up to 10 days for the union to respond and up to 14 days for the state to decide — but a decision could come faster than that depending on how long the union and the state take to act.
The union will respond quickly, negotiator and teacher Rob Gould said, but a walkout will not happen Monday as planned. Gould could not say yet whether it could start later next week.
If the labor department ultimately does get involved and use its limited power to try to broker an agreement, it would put a strike on hold for up to 180 days.
Apart from the official state process set up to intervene in labor disputes, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said Wednesday he would meet with representatives of the school district and union to see if he could help with negotiations. “I will be meeting with both sides to see if we can play a role in bringing them together,” Polis told reporters.
The Democrat, who took office this month and has vowed to increase school funding, declined to elaborate or answer further questions about the strike.
In a statement Wednesday evening, Polis’ office said: “At this point, the governor has not made a decision to intervene. The governor and the Department of Labor and Employment will continue to engage both sides and encourage both sides to return to the table and continue negotiating on a path forward.”
The teachers’ union announced late Tuesday that 93 percent of members voted to strike after contract talks broke down last week.
The earliest teachers could have legally walk off the job was Monday.
As it prepares its response and meets with the governor, Gould said the union was still waiting for the school district to offer to resume negotiations.
Denver superintendent Susana Cordova, a former teacher who was recently hired as schools’ chief, has vowed to keep schools open if there is a strike and called on teachers to continue talking.
The main sticking point is increasing base pay, including lessening teachers’ reliance on one-time bonuses for things such as having students with high test scores or working in a high-poverty school. Teachers also wanted to earn more for continuing their education.
The union said the school district’s offer fell $8 million short from the funding it wants to change the compensation system, an amount it claims the district could find by reducing administrators’ bonuses and taking money out of a $64 million reserve.
The school district said its offer would mean an average 10-percent raise in the next school year and make the minimum starting salary for teachers $45,500, the second-highest in the Denver area.
According to the district’s website, the starting salary is currently $39,851 and the average salary overall is $50,449.
The Denver vote came just after Los Angeles teachers voted to end a six-day strike after securing a 6-percent pay hike and a commitment to reduce class sizes.
Teachers hoped to build on the “Red4Ed” movement that began last year in West Virginia and moved to Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, and Washington state. It spread from conservative states with “right to work” laws that limit the ability to strike to the more liberal West Coast with strong unions.
Colorado Sun staff writer Jesse Paul contributed to this report.
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