Denver school board gives Superintendent Alex Marrero an $8,000 bonus with his second evaluation

Two masked students sit at desks. Superintendent Alex Marrerro, wearing a mask and a suit, stands and talks with them.
Denver Public Schools Superintendent Alex Marrero, right, chats with students Sasha Punkay, left, and Scarlet Harrison-Barretta, center, on the first day of school at Denver Montessori Junior/Senior High School in August 2021. (Helen H. Richardson / The Denver Post)

Denver Superintendent Alex Marrero met just over 80% of his goals last school year, a record that earned him an $8,235 bonus, equal to 2.5% of his annual salary.

That’s according to Marrero’s second performance evaluation as superintendent of Denver Public Schools. The school board unanimously approved the evaluation Tuesday after several lengthy closed-door meetings but little public discussion.

The 2.5% bonus is far less than the 12.5%, or $41,175, bonus Marrero could have earned if he’d met all his goals. In a gently worded evaluation, school board members noted Marrero fell short on several goals based on student test scores, educator retention, and other areas, and asked him to improve his communication and do more to recruit Black educators.

In his previous evaluation last October, the board accepted Marrero’s self-evaluation and made fewer comments. Earlier this year, the school board approved a 10% raise and a new contract for Marrero based on that evaluation. 

Marrero’s current salary is $329,400 a year. The $8,235 is a one-time bonus, not a raise.

Marrero has been superintendent of DPS since July 2021. In that time, the district has faced several challenges, including pandemic-related disruptions and learning loss, a rise in gun violence in and around schools, and infighting among school board members.

Board Vice President Auon’tai Anderson, who called the first evaluation a “rubber stamp exercise,” said Tuesday that this year’s evaluation process was more robust. In addition to Marrero’s 11-page self-evaluation — which is full of links to YouTube videos and social media posts highlighting district achievements and good news about DPS — the board released a 12-page summary of the goals Marrero met, as well as the ones he only partially met.

This year’s process “provided you with areas of growth and opportunities for us as a district to continue to move the needle forward,” Anderson said to Marrero before Tuesday’s vote. 

Under its governance structure, the board passes policies that set overarching goals for the district. The superintendent then interprets those goals in terms of more specific metrics or targets, and monitors progress toward reaching them.

For example, the board set a goal that DPS graduates will be “ready to meet the world academically and socially.” One way Marrero interpreted that goal is to increase the number of 12th graders on track to graduate, a target he met for the 2022-23 school year.

The board’s 12-page summary is mostly full of kudos. It notes that Marrero successfully negotiated contracts with six employee unions that resulted in higher wages, expanded financial literacy courses to more high schools, and made strides toward making DPS more green and sustainable — an effort recognized in a visit from U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris.

The criticism, which the document calls “growth areas,” is sparse and muted. The board noted that goals around community engagement and the recruitment of Black educators were not met.

“The Board believes addressing the issue of retaining Black educators is not only a moral imperative but also vital for the success and well-being of our students,” the summary says.

The board also softly chided Marrero for his communication, writing that “it is critical that public communications are not only reflective of the Board’s collective position but are also vetted to ensure consistency in the narrative we present to our stakeholders.” Marrero has sometimes criticized the board to the media, including after they rejected his school closure recommendations.

Board members also asked Marrero to include them in “celebratory events and school visits.”

“We will always appear united and collaborative if Board members are present alongside Dr. Marrero at such occasions,” the document says.

In contrast to the softer language of the evaluation, a series of monitoring reports, which are posted online, include more hard data on the targets Marrero met or missed.

Among the missed targets:

Examples of met targets:

“During Dr. Marrero’s time as the Superintendent of DPS, he has prioritized academic achievement, cultivated collaborative relationships within our school district, and championed an inclusive and positive educational environment for our students, families, and educators,” the board said in a statement read by members before Tuesday’s vote.

Board members also thanked him individually.

“I’ve appreciated seeing you grow as a superintendent,” board member Scott Esserman said. “You have successfully implemented a vision based on a series of steps that you said you were going to take when you were hired, and you followed through.”

 Melanie Asmar is a senior reporter for Chalkbeat Colorado, covering Denver Public Schools. Contact Melanie at masmar@chalkbeat.org.

The Latest

Many high school students struggled in the aftermath of COVID. This graduating senior found a talent for wrestling, teaching, and connecting with the classmates who wanted to give up.

Schools are too often punishing and excluding special education students with behavioral issues, Tennessee Disability Coalition says

Muchos estudiantes de high school atravesaron dificultades a consecuencia del COVID. Esta estudiante de último curso descubrió su don para la lucha, enseñar y para conectarse con los compañeros de clase que querían darse por vencidos.

The policy shift comes after some Manhattan parents lobbied Chancellor David Banks to impose geographic admissions preferences at high-demand local high schools.

Air conditioning, high school theater upgrades, and a new school in far northeast Denver are among the projects being recommended.

Increased state education spending now will more than pay for itself as more students graduate and attend college, report finds