Feb. 11 (UPI) -- Teachers in Denver went on strike Monday for the first time in a quarter-century after last-minute negotiations with the school board failed to avoid the walkout.
The Denver Classroom Teachers Association and Denver Public Schools met over the weekend in a last ditch effort for a new contract, but were unable to agree on a pay raise for educators.
Early Monday, about 2,000 teachers didn't report for work. Officials said all schools would remain open, with substitute teachers stepping in. Staff shortages, though, forced the cancellation of early childhood education classes.
"Teachers were stunned when DPS proposed hiking incentives instead of putting that new money into base pay where it could make the entire district more competitive," teacher and union president Henry Roman said in a statement. "We are incredibly disappointed that on the last day of bargaining and less than two days before a strike, they doubled down on onetime incentives teachers do not want."
Hundreds of teachers picketed Monday in front of Denver's South High School. They shouted, "What do we want? Better pay. When do we want it? Now."
The strike, Denver's first in 25 years, could affect more than 71,000 students at 147 schools. The district's preschool program will be shut down completely during the strike as there are no district staff to take care of them.
"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," Denver Public School Superintendent Susanna Cordova told CPR News.
Labor negotiations have been going for 15 months. Last month, 93 percent of the union voted to strike, with both sides $8 million apart on salary proposals. On Saturday, Cordova offered a new proposal, shrinking the gap to $5.5 million. That wasn't good enough, the union said, walking away from the negotiating table.
The union said it's willing to continue negotiating Tuesday.
We're disappointed that the DCTA walked away from the table. We presented an updated proposal that responds to what we have heard from teachers, aligns to our values of equity and retention, honors the ProComp ballot language and significantly increases the base pay for teachers.— DenverPublicSchools (@DPSNewsNow) February 10, 2019
"We're disappointed that DCTA walked away from the table," the board tweeted. "We presented an updated proposal that responds to what we have heard from teachers ... and significantly increases the base pay for teachers."