Aiming at retaining more teachers, Aurora and its union will launch talks with this proposal on pay

Aurora school district and union leaders will launch negotiations this week considering a proposal that includes $5,000 bonuses and bigger raises to teachers earlier in their careers.

The proposed changes to teacher pay are part of an effort to slow the turnover of veteran teachers.

The proposal, presented to the Aurora school board Tuesday, comes from a work group of 12 union and district leaders that met throughout 2019. The raises would be paid for by about $10 million from a local property tax increase that voters approved in 2018.

Under the current traditional salary schedule, teachers get pay raises by earning college credits and seniority. That has been in place for “forever and a day,” said district Chief Personnel Officer Damon Smith.

“Teaching today doesn’t look the same,” Smith said.

Bruce Wilcox, president of the Aurora teachers union, said the group considered how long teachers stay in the district. Many new teachers don’t stay more than three years, he said. Both district and union leaders said students benefit when the district can have educators in place from the start of the school year, and when teachers don’t leave in the middle of the year.

That hasn’t always been the case in Aurora, which like most districts sees pockets of high turnover and has struggled to fill some jobs. The district has set a goal of retaining at least 88% of teachers year to year. Most recently, from the year 2018-19 to 2019-20, teacher retention was at 83.9%.

The work group considered alternative pay systems to entice teachers to stay in the district longer, work group leaders said.

Now the pay proposal goes before Aurora union and district negotiators, who are considering the entire teachers contract. The negotiations could reshape the pay proposal, but leaders hope that, because the two sides worked on the plan together, it may be well received.

Once the union and district reach a new agreement, union members and the district’s school board will vote on whether to approve the agreement.

For now, officials said they’re unsure about how teachers will receive the plan. Union and district leaders will host information sessions for employees to better understand the plan.

As incentive for approval, the plan would allow teachers to choose to stay on the current salary schedule if the new one — if approved — would lower their cumulative earnings over time.

The proposed plan would offer the same starting base salary for a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree: $43,471, as the current salary schedule does now. After three years, teachers would earn bigger raises under the new proposal.

A teacher with a bachelor’s degree, for instance, could earn more than $50,000 in five years under the new schedule, as opposed to six years under the current schedule A teacher with a master’s degree might earn more than $60,000 by year six, instead of year eight.

In proposing the changes, the work group considered results of a teacher survey, consultant-led focus groups that included teachers who had left the district, and teacher retention and turnover data.

In setting stipends for hard-to-staff jobs, the district was also able to use data from a pilot it ran in the 2018-19 school year. That pilot created contention with the union, which objected to the district implementing it without negotiating it first.

Wilcox said the union suggested some changes from how the pilot was run. For instance, instead of paying out the bonus after teachers show up to start the school year, the work group’s plan proposes paying the $5,000 stipend in two chunks, at the end of the fall semester, and at the end of the school year.

All high school and middle school science and math instructors, special education employees, and licensed employees who instruct concurrent enrollment courses (offering community college credit) will be eligible for the stipends, as well as school psychologists, social workers, speech language pathologists, and occupational therapists.

Final data from the pilot showed that the bonus was more helpful in filling jobs for nurses and psychologists than it did for teaching roles.

The current proposed stipend is also bigger than that offered in the pilot. And Wilcox said the union will negotiate for more data tracking around the stipend, to analyze how it helps. He knows it may generate some pushback, but said he and some other teacher leaders believe the plan could be beneficial overall.

He added that there are indirect impacts when there aren’t enough teachers to fill positions. Students are affected not only in that one class that has a substitute, but also in another class whose teacher may have filled in and missed a planning period. When students get behind in one subject like math, for lack of a permanent teacher, they may also then suffer in a related class like science.

So filling positions and keeping teachers is in the best interest of students, district and union leaders agreed.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” Wilcox said.

Board members Thursday agreed, and joined work group leaders in praising volunteers who were part of the team that created the proposal.