For the first time in a quarter century, Denver's public school teachers will go on strike Monday morning. Contract negotiations broke down Saturday. The two sides plan to resume talks on Tuesday.

5:48 p.m. — More than half of Denver Public Schools teachers traded their classrooms for the picket line Monday. Tomorrow, educators will return to the streets to protest again as the district and the union reconvene negotiations. 

4:41 p.m. — Hundreds of Denver teachers bundled up in red against the chilly, sunny weather, gathered on the steps of the state Capitol on Monday.

The educators were rallying for a new pay system and higher wages. Monday marked the beginning of the first Denver Public Schools teacher strike in 25 years. When the crowd was asked if it was anyone’s first time striking, most raised their hands.

“They’ve changed the rules so much to make it so that we don’t get our bonuses,” said Theresa Mcguire, an art teacher at Kunsmiller Creative Arts Academy in southwest Denver. “I don’t want to have bonuses. I want a clear concise salary that I can see, so if I go to the bank and if I want to take a loan, this is what I’m going to get. End of story.”

That pay system is a major sticking point in negotiations. Currently, the district gives incentives for certain types of work, such as working at a Title I school. But teachers have called the system confusing, unreliable and ineffective. 

Mcguire said she took out a second job as a fitness instructor a few months ago when she felt that negotiations between the union and the district would lead to a strike. 

Her colleague and fellow teacher SyRae Weikle said the strike is the result of years of frustrations. 

“We’ve been holding off for a long time and not getting what we want and I think finally we’ve come together,” Weikle said.

More than half of Denver teachers went on strike today and are expected to return to the picket line tomorrow when negotiations resume. 

The protestors’ signs pointed to tense negotiations. “DPS proposal? Thank u next,” read one, referencing the Ariana Grande hit. Others said: “‘I do it for the money,’ said no teacher ever,” and “Will work for clear base pay.” 

A band played songs throughout the rally, as teachers sang along and waved signs. They ended with the Twister Sister song, “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”

4:28 p.m. — Federal lawyers have waded into the Denver Public Schools labor dispute. 

A lawsuit filed against Denver Public Schools alleges the district is failing to meet the needs of special education students during the teacher strike, which by not providing educators proper compensation, the district is responsible for.

The lawyers are citing two federal laws which guarantee that public schools provide services to disabled kids. Prosecutors also allege the district did not offer any specific plan for how it would care for disabled students during the strike.

Lawyers say some DPS students are on breathing machines, have traumatic brain injuries, suffer serious intellectual disabilities or need daily specialized care that the vast majority of substitutes aren't properly trained to provide.

DPS did not have any immediate comment on the filing.

3:36 p.m. — The impromptu dance party in the halls of East High School caught a lot of attention on day one of the Denver Teacher Strike, but one parent said her daughter’s school was orderly despite the absences.

Jeanne Zokovitch-Paben, who has a fourth-grader at University Park Elementary, said she is going to send her daughter to school Tuesday to prove a point to the district. For her, that message is that “we believe that sending our kids to school gives a message that we expect them to have a quality education.”

Zokovitch-Paben said about two-thirds of her daughter’s class was in attendance Monday. They did worksheets early in the day and then watched a movie in the auditorium.

Another reaction to the events at East came from students at North High. CPR’s Jenny Brundin reports that North students are organizing a tentative sit in/walk out for Tuesday. The idea is to refocus attention on the teachers. Their concern is that the East High dance party has landed blame on teachers for what happened.

2:32 p.m. — A national group of school administrators backs Denver Public Schools and Superintendent Susana Cordova in the teacher strike that started today. Mike Magee, leader of the Chiefs for Change nonprofit, said DPS's pay incentives are smart and they support teachers who take on the biggest challenges in the district.

“The proof is in the pudding,” Magee told CPR News. “Denver’s graduation rates, its growth in student achievement over the last decade is second to none in Colorado.”

Cordova is a member of the group's “Future Chiefs” leadership program. The organization describes itself a bipartisan network of education chiefs that work to prepare students for today’s world.

One of the core disagreements between DPS and the union is the incentive system. Teachers are fighting for some of the incentive money to go toward higher base pay.

The statement that Chiefs for Change released this morning said the district’s incentives “should be applauded, not used as a pretense for leaving families high and dry. We hope union leaders will meet Superintendent Susana Cordova in the spirit of productive compromise that she has consistently demonstrated.”

Negotiations are scheduled to begin again Tuesday at 10 a.m., but for the moment, each side appears entrenched when it comes to incentives. At the Monday afternoon union rally on the steps of the capitol, DCTA Lead Negotiator Rob Gould told the crowd that bonuses “have not been proven effective and our students pay the price for these experiments.”

2:06 p.m. — Teachers and their supporters are about to rally at the state capitol. Here's the scene before the speeches start from the west side steps:

Here's a livestream from the rally.

1:57 p.m. — Here’s today’s strike by the numbers (data provided by DPS): 

  • Breakfast: 20,386 meals served
  • Bus ridership: 3,300
  • Teacher attendance: of the 4,725 teachers serving in non-charter schools, 2,631 teachers did not report to school this morning (56 percent). 
  • DPS has approximately 1,400 central office staff in schools Monday and enlisted approximately 400 substitutes to cover teacher absences.

12:30 p.m. — In a conversation that aired on Colorado Matters, Rachel Sandoval, a fifth grade teacher at Godsman Elementary School and the treasurer of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, told CPR News on Sunday that while she doesn’t want to strike, “philosophically” she knows she has to.

“I am physically sick to my stomach to think of not being with my kids. There is no part of me that wants to leave my classroom,” Sandoval said. “But doing the right thing isn’t always easy, right?”

Sandoval, 41, rents with three roommates to afford living in Denver. She left a corporate accounting job to teach, and years later is still shocked by the disrespect and financial instability her profession faces.

“When have you ever heard of a lawyer or a doctor having to go on strike because they can’t afford to live where they work?” she said.

Sandoval is adamant that base pay must grow to, even if it’s only by $5 or $10 per teacher as the district folds a bonus into salaries. Sandoval receives a bonus for teaching at a Title I school. But that sum has varied by thousands of dollars year to year, she said.

As more and more of those low-income families are priced out and move away from Sandoval’s school, the budget will only continue to fluctuate and drop, she said.

“I can’t buy a house. I’m never going to move out. Because it fluctuates so greatly,” Sandoval said. “But if you leave my base alone and let it grow, I’m going to be able one day to move out.”

11:48 a.m. — In district's Monday news conference, DPS Superintendent Susana Cordova discussed the first day of the teacher strike. When asked about the day's events and whether schools will be open tomorrow, Cordova said DPS will assess every school's "situation this afternoon and make sure our plans are communicated in advance."

Cordova said that both parties will be back at the negotiating table on Tuesday, starting at 10:00 a.m. Her stated goal is to "talk as long as it takes to get a deal." In describing the amount of money involved, she described the district as "way past the middle" in terms of the give and take between the two sides.

11:06 a.m. — We've heard this question a lot: What about the marijuana money? Why can't that be directed toward teacher pay?

Marijuana revenues from the state's legalized sales do get directed toward education, but not the operational budgets that pay for salaries, books and supplies. The money is used for maintenance and construction — and as we've reported previously, for small-scale anti-bullying, literacy, dropout prevention and school health programs.

Another point you'll find in this extensive breakdown of how marijuana taxes are spent is that they make up such a small portion of the overall state budget. Less than 1 percent.

10:20 a.m. via The Associated Press — A leading Colorado lawmaker said the teachers strike underscores the need to boost funding of public schools across the state. House Majority Leader Alec Garnett said Monday lawmakers must find a way to fix conflicting laws that restrict state K-12 spending by hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

The Democrat also said school districts must do a better job at ensuring tax dollars go to the classroom and not administrative overhead.

Garnett said he met with both sides over the weekend and that they were "super-close" to a deal.

10:00 a.m. — What's going on inside the schools while the teachers are on the picket line? Inside East High School, a video shared with media outlets by a student journalist showed a spontaneous dance party breaking out. The Denver Post has details and shared the video.

Other photos shared with CPR News showed students in auditoriums, others playing board or video games and a few sparse groups in classrooms.

9:17 a.m. — Teachers aren’t alone as they strike in Denver today. The crowds outside schools include parents and students. A few dozen teachers walked the picket line in front of Marie L. Greenwood Academy in Montbello. They chanted "what do we want? Fair pay now" as parents dropped off their children. Bonnie Saenz has two kids at Greenwood — she also tutors at the school.

"Parents are so grateful that the teachers are here for our kids because our kids are with them for half of the day, you know, and we need to support them, we need to back them in every way that we can," she said.

The district has said schools will remain open during the strike and will be staffed by administrators and substitute teachers. Classes for 5,000 preschool children were canceled however, because DPS doesn't have the staff to take care of them.

The state says a walkout will cost about $400,000 a day and would consume 1 to 2 percent of the district's annual operating budget in about a week.

The Associated Press contributed to this update.

8:21 a.m. — Some South High School students walked out in support of their teachers. Ahead of the walkout, student Maddie Atuire didn’t have the words to describe the scene, but said she felt “so proud.”

“Obviously it's a crazy day but I just feel so proud of my teachers for standing out here and fighting for what they deserve,” she said.

Another student, Senior Katie Maloney, said it was empowering that the teachers chose to go on strike. She was also part of the group of students who were going to walk out. They felt it was the best way to show DPS that students supported the teachers.

8:13 a.m. — Signs of the strike...

7:48 a.m. via Jenny Brundin — About 100 teachers are demonstrating outside of South High School as students trickle in for class. As of this morning, there isn’t a solid count of how many teacher did not show up for work on Monday (a Sunday night estimate put it at 2,100). A firm count is expected later in the day.

Negotiations between teachers and the district started about 15 months ago with very little progress. It wasn't until December and especially in January when new Superintendent Susana Cordova took over that things really started to move a little bit forward. The main issue is over the philosophy of how teachers should advance in the pay schedule and whether they should be given credit for professional development classes they take in school. Another big difference is the district firmly believes in incentives for teachers to work in things like high poverty schools.

The union believes that incentive pay should be folded into base salary. Both sides this morning are really firm on those positions and it's hard to see how they're going to untangle their way out of this. Neither side is budging in the early hours of the strike, but bargaining is expected to resume Tuesday. No time has been announced yet for that session.

7:06 a.m. — The strike is officially on as teachers congregate at schools. Denver Public Schools Superintendent Susanna Cordova acknowledged it won't be a normal day of instruction in the classroom for some students — but she says the district is prepared.

"We're going to make sure we have guest teachers, licensed DPS staff and other DPS personnel who've all gone through the required background checks to be in our schools, in our schools for supervision," she told CPR News.

As of 5 p.m. Sunday, 2,100 teachers had reported absences for Monday. Across the district there are a total of 5,353 teachers and specialized service providers.

6:50 a.m. — Picketing started earlier than expected on Monday. Teachers lined up at South High School both to work the line and an expected news conference with union negotiators. Denver Public Schools is also expected to hold a news conference this morning as well as the strike gets started in earnest.

The strike will affect 71,000 students across 147 schools. Denver Public Schools does not yet know how many of its 5,353 teachers, social workers, psychologists and speech language pathologists will walk off their jobs. 
 
The district says all kindergarten through 12th grade schools will be open, running on their regular schedules. School bus service and school meals for students in grades K-12 will be offered as normal. The district intends to staff buildings with central office employees and substitute teachers.

Preschool has been canceled during the strike, and those buildings are closed. There are 4,714 preschool students in the district. The district doesn't have the staff to take care of them.

Charter schools may have different plans. Those families should check with their schools.

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The Denver Classroom Teachers Association plans a press conference at South High School early Monday, and expects there to be picket lines at schools across the city from 7-9 a.m. Picket lines will remain in place until 11 a.m. at Montbello and Lincoln high schools.

At 9 a.m., DCTA plans a march from West High School down Speer Boulevard to Colfax Avenue. At 2 p.m. the union intends to hold a rally on the west steps of the state Capitol. DCTA President Henry Roman and the union's chief negotiator, Rob Gould, are among those scheduled to speak.

The two sides disagree about pay increases and bonuses for teachers in high-poverty schools and other schools that the district considers a priority. Teachers want lower bonuses to free up money for better overall salaries, while administrators say the bonuses are necessary to boost the academic performance of poor and minority students.

Bonuses paid to teachers with more than 14 years of experience do not become part of their base pay, which critics say encourages high turnover and hurts students. Both sides have agreed to get rid of that provision but disagree about how big the bonuses should be for teachers working in high-poverty schools and in schools deemed a high priority by the district.

Gov. Jared Polis decided last Wednesday against intervening to stop the strike but said he may step in if it drags on. It's expected to cost about $400,000 a day to keep schools operating with substitutes and administrators.

The teachers union says 93 percent of its members backed a strike in a vote last month.