Superintendent Alex Marrero wins 10% raise from divided Denver school board

Denver Public Schools Superintendent Alex Marrero, wearing glasses and a blue checkered suit jacket, makes a speech outdoors at a wooden podium.
Denver Public Schools Superintendent Alex Marrero was hired in 2021. (Hyoung Chang / The Denver Post)

Sign up for Chalkbeat Colorado’s free daily newsletter to get the latest reporting on public schools in Denver and across the state.

The Denver school board voted 4-3 Thursday to immediately raise the salary of Superintendent Alex Marrero to at least $305,000, a 10% boost to his base salary. The new contract also includes performance pay of up to 12.5% of his base salary if he achieves all of his goals.

Denver Public Schools is the largest school district in the state, measured by enrollment, and Marrero’s salary will now be among the highest for a superintendent in Colorado.

Vice President Auon’tai Anderson and board members Scott Esserman and Michelle Quattlebaum voted against the raise. Anderson and Quattlebaum said they disagreed with the process of renegotiating Marrero’s contract, which they criticized as not transparent.

“We did not come to a genuine consensus on how the negotiations were going to happen,” Quattlebaum said. “We were flawed in the approach.”

But board President Xóchitl “Sochi” Gaytán said Marrero deserved a raise.

“A pay raise better aligns with his compensation when we look at his peers across the state,” Gaytán said.

Tracy Dorland, superintendent of Jeffco Public Schools, the state’s second-largest district, makes $279,916 this year. Erin Kane, superintendent of the third-largest district in Douglas County, was hired last year at $250,000. Aurora Public Schools, which is the fifth-largest district, just agreed to pay a new superintendent, Michael Giles, $285,000 starting in July. 

Don Haddad, superintendent of the St. Vrain Valley School District, seventh-largest in the state and headquartered in Longmont, makes at least $328,000.

Marrero was hired by the Denver school board in July 2021 at a salary of $260,000. That was the same salary earned by previous superintendent Susana Cordova. Marrero’s contract said his salary would rise each year at the rate of the local consumer price index. 

Prior to Thursday’s vote, Marrero’s salary for this year was $276,354.

If he earns the maximum performance pay possible under his new contract — for achieving 100% of his goals — his salary would be $343,125 this year.

Marrero’s contract also allows for performance pay if he achieves 95%, 90%, 85%, or 80% of his goals. If he achieves 75% or less, he doesn’t get a bonus.

The percentage refers to the extent he meets a set of metrics known as “reasonable interpretations.” Last year, for example, some of the metrics were to identify at least two oppressive systems to dismantle and for the district to retain educators of color at the same rate as white educators.

Marrero’s pay boost is retroactive to Jan. 1, according to the new contract. His base salary of $305,000 will continue increase annually on Aug. 1 at the rate of the local consumer price index.

In his nearly two years as superintendent, Marrero has dealt with several controversial and high-profile issues, including rising gun violence and a shooting inside the district’s largest high school, as well as the decision to close schools due to declining enrollment

Marrero has only had one performance evaluation — and it was somewhat controversial. In October, the board voted 6-1 to accept Marrero’s self-evaluation as his formal evaluation. Anderson was the sole no vote, explaining in a statement that he didn’t believe the evaluation was robust enough. It should not be “a rubber-stamp exercise,” he wrote.

Marrero’s evaluation differed markedly from the last time the board evaluated a superintendent. For Cordova’s evaluation in 2020, the board hired an outside firm to collect feedback from students, parents, staff, and community members in addition to considering Cordova’s self-evaluation. The board also gave her a score: 3 out of 5.

Some speculated that the middling evaluation led Cordova, who grew up in Denver and had worked her entire career in DPS, to resign a few months later.

“That prior process was far from perfect, and we should learn from what did not work well,” Anderson wrote in his statement about why he voted against Marrero’s self-evaluation. “That said, I believe the current Board has over-corrected.”

Gaytán said in an interview Thursday that renegotiations over Marrero’s contract date back to October, after the board accepted his self-evaluation. She also defended the process, which she said involved attorneys for DPS and Marrero trading drafts, and the DPS attorney asking school board members for feedback via email.

Board members have consistently supported Marrero publicly, even if they haven’t always agreed with his recommendations, especially on school closures. In December 2021, before any evaluation took place and just five months into his tenure, the school board extended Marrero’s contract from two years to four years with automatic one-year extension.

Board members said they wanted to give Marrero more time to make a difference in Denver. His contract now has the potential to go through 2027.

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

The Latest

Black and Hispanic students have historically had far less access to sports. The situation has led one school’s dean to file a federal civil rights complaint.

Studies show students who complete federal financial aid applications are far more likely to attend college.

Proposed legislation would also block the current school board from changing admissions policies at selective enrollment schools.

Amid a literacy crisis in Michigan, these educators want nearly every public school in the state to have a library and a certified librarian.

One is participating in an intensive apprenticeship program at Bloomberg and the other dashed off 23 college applications.

Turnout was characteristically low — below 3%.