Denver Public Schools officials plan to set a new organization-wide minimum wage and increase stipends for teachers in high-needs schools next year using funds that would otherwise have been earmarked for pensions.

A bill that reduces the amount the district contributes each year to PERA, the state’s pension fund, was signed into law today. The new law frees up approximately $20 million per year.

DPS had previously contributed to PERA at a higher rate than other districts in the state and as a result has a retirement fund that is more fully funded than the rest of the state. (Read this Denver Post story for more on Denver Public Schools and PERA.)

“I was delighted to see the law pass to provide for equity between DPS and the state’s other school districts and fulfill the promise of the PERA merger.” said DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg.

DPS officials laid out their plans for the new funds at Gov. John Hickenlooper’s bill signing event this morning.

The new minimum wage for Denver school employees will be $12 per hour. The increase will affect some 1,700 employees, including paraprofessionals, cafeteria workers, and custodial staff. Some of those employees are currently paid $9 per hour.

DPS will double its subsidy for health insurance from $750 per year to $1,500 per year.

The district plans to use the funds to add 30 teachers to its turnaround schools, to hire an additional 150 teachers in each of the next two years, and to expand its teacher leadership program.

DPS also plans to create a new set of financial incentives for teachers in 30 high-poverty, challenging schools. (Teachers across the district are slated to get a 5.6 percent raise next year.) Teachers would receive between $2,000 to $4,000 depending their evaluation score.

Boasberg said those changes were spurred partly by the recommendations of a task force focused on teacher retention in high-needs schools.

Denver Classroom Teachers Association representatives had advocated for some PERA funds to go to teachers, but one representative said DCTA had not given input on the proposal laid out at the bill signing.