As the first teacher’s strike in 30 years kicks off in LA today, Denver Public Schools looks poised to strike as well if a deal isn’t reached by this Saturday after narrowly avoiding a strike last year. Like most teachers around the country, most cannot afford to live in the districts they teach in and one in five DPS teachers work a second job. Long-standing issues in funding, particularly in regards to property taxes, mean school funding and teacher pay is an obvious issue of racial discrimination and class warfare.
District salary documents circulating on Facebook detail a massive pay disparity between the average DPS teacher and administrative officials. While a first-year teacher makes less than $45,000 a year, a rate the union is fighting to increase by up to 10% and with the rapid rising costs of living in Denver amounting to basically an inflationary wage raise, executive directors are pulling nearly a quarter-million dollar salary. Anyone that has ever worked within a school system could tell you the teachers are being hosed. The distribution of labor between even a school principal, making upwards of $85,000 per year, and that of a teacher is astronomical: pouring through the documents, DPS has one administrator to manage every 7.5 teachers, yet one teacher for every 40 students. Couple that with the fact that teachers pay hundreds of dollars per year to supply their own classrooms, work countless hours of unpaid over-time grading papers and preparing lesson plans, and without a doubt spend the most time educating and supervising children, it’s no wonder DPS teachers are ready to form picket lines.
Despite initial record profits and promises that the legalization of marijuana would provide an influx of funding for school districts across the state, that is largely not the case. Construction projects (notoriously nebulous processes) and programs like substance abuse prevention or adding counselors are funded through grant programs from marijuana sales taxes, however, teacher’s salaries aren’t addressed because the grants are not a consistent source of budgetary income for the schools and districts. While voters in Colorado likely had issues like this in mind when voting to pass Amendment 64, the nuts and bolts of the funding limitations mean teachers, one of the last widespread unionized professions in this country not connected to health care or law enforcement, get the shaft.
Further dystopian is learning that “military instructors” or coordinators of school ROTC programs are receiving nearly six-figure incomes from district budgets. In a country that spends almost three-quarters of a trillion dollars on its military per year, downright criminal for the only industrialized nation in the world without universal healthcare as well as a for-profit university system that have both inflated America’s largest debt bubbles, hamstrung a generation’s purchasing power, brought upward mobility to a sluggish pace, and presents itself as an obvious culprit to the lowest US birth rates in three decades, somehow state school budgets are still spending hundreds of thousands every year to pay instructors to run cosplay clubs at schools all over the state to prepare students for war. As if using federal tax money for recruiters, video games, sporting events, movies, television shows and commercials wasn’t enough, the military demands money Colorado residents expect to go to educating their children instead go to programs that have contributed to training school shooters and indoctrinating kids to join the armed forces.
How supportive people in Colorado will be of a possible strike remains to be seen. During the 2018 midterms, voters knocked down Amendment 73, which would’ve increased corporate income taxes and taxes for people making more than $150,000 a year and created a public education fund. Strikes typically mean kids don’t or can’t go to school, which obviously upsets parents in an age where childcare costs have skyrocketed to as much as half of some two-parent household incomes. These are unfortunate realities for a city that has seen its tax base exponentially increase in an affordable housing crunch, yet won’t foot the bill for increasing meager teacher salaries through ballot initiatives and continue to exorbitantly overpay administrators. The potential strike might hurt the district’s students and parents, but ultimately you get what you pay for.