Denver school district commits to $15 minimum wage by 2023

In response to rising rents and living expenses in the gentrifying city, the Denver school board unanimously passed a resolution Thursday to raise the district’s minimum wage to $15 by 2023.

The change will cost $9 million, the resolution says, and affect more than 3,000 food service workers, custodians, teachers aides, and other hourly employees in Denver Public Schools. Board member Angela Cobián, who represents southwest Denver, called the work these employees do “indispensable.”

It’s important, Cobián said, “to recognize and reward that work — and we should do that not just now, but going forward.” Cobián said that growing up in a household where both of her parents relied on hourly wages is part of what inspired her to bring the resolution forward. Some district workers are also parents of students in Denver schools, and the resolution recognizes that.

“Our students and families living in poverty face unique challenges of housing instability, challenged access to mental and physical health care, and an opportunity gap that exists before even starting kindergarten,” the resolution says. “These families are often forced to choose between rent and other necessities for their children.”

The Denver school board follows Denver’s city council, which earlier this month voted to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2021. The current Colorado minimum wage is $11.10 an hour, and is set to increase to $12 in 2020. Denver Public Schools’ minimum wage is currently $12.50 for food service workers and paraprofessionals, and $13.50 for custodians.

The district has already set aside $3 million of its $1 billion budget next year for boosting the salaries of food workers, custodians, and paraprofessionals, according to the resolution. Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour will cost approximately $9 million, the resolution says.

“We believe that DPS can get here by 2023,” it says, “and commit to making investments toward this goal along the way.”

The commitment comes on the heels of an even bigger pledge to raise pay for Denver teachers, counselors, psychologists, nurses, and others. Educators are set to get an average 11.7 percent raise next year as the result of a new contract that injects an additional $23.1 million into their pay. The agreement came after a three-day strike in February.