Most Denver teachers would get raises under a new salary structure proposed by the school district Wednesday night. The proposal would boost the salary for first-year teachers by nearly 8 percent to $45,000 annually.
The current contract between the district and the teachers union expires Jan. 18, and the union has threatened to strike if an agreement is not reached.
While union leaders said the district’s proposal is “moving in the right direction,” they said it still falls short. For one, they said it wouldn’t give teachers enough of a salary boost for furthering their own education by taking classes toward earning advanced degrees.
“You’re listening,” Rob Gould, a special education teacher and member of the union bargaining team, told district negotiators. “I will say that. We still need you to listen further.”
Denver Public Schools and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association have been negotiating for the past year against a backdrop of widespread protests over teacher pay. The two sides are not negotiating the main teacher contract. Rather, they are negotiating the contract that governs the district’s complex pay-for-performance system, known as ProComp.
Negotiations have been heated, in part because of a state law that requires the district and the union to bargain in public where teachers can watch. Wednesday’s session was no exception. At the end, Gould pointed to a red and white button he had pinned to his union T-shirt.
“This button says, ‘Ask me why I am ready to strike,’” Gould said, as a chorus of teachers “mmmhmmm”-ed in the audience. “I’m ready to strike because I’m sick and tired of teacher salaries paying for other things. And you need to prioritize teachers.”
Denver teachers have long said the pay-for-performance system is too complicated and unpredictable. It pays teachers a base salary and allows them to earn bonuses and incentives for things like high student test scores or working in a hard-to-fill position.
The sole finalist for the district’s open superintendent job, Deputy Superintendent Susana Cordova, has said repeatedly the district should invest more in teachers’ base pay.
District officials said their proposal would simplify the system. It would also increase by $11 million the amount of money Denver Public Schools spends out of its $1 billion budget on teacher pay. The $11 million would come from a combination of increased state funding and cuts to the central office, said Debbie Hearty, head of human resources for the district.
However, the proposal does not give the teachers union what it really wants: the opportunity for veteran teachers to earn $100,000. The union has proposed its own salary schedule that would pay a teacher with 20 years of positive evaluations and a doctorate a base salary of $100,000.
Under the district’s proposal, a teacher with a doctorate and 20 years of positive evaluations would earn a base salary of $85,750.
The union’s proposal would cost a lot more than $11 million, maybe even three times as much. But union leaders said the district could come up with the money if it prioritized paying teachers over other things, such as calculating school ratings they think are flawed.
The district’s proposal gets close to a $100,000 salary but not all the way. The highest it goes is a base salary of $90,750. That would be for a teacher with 30 years of positive evaluations and a doctorate or a combination of advanced degrees, certifications, and longevity.
The district is proposing that teachers who have worked for the district 15 years be bumped up on the salary schedule as a way to honor retention — a proposal Hearty called “bold.”
The two sides do agree on where the salary schedule should start: $45,000 for a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree. Currently, first-year teachers earn a base salary of $41,689.
A $45,000 starting salary would be higher than in the surrounding metro districts, including Jeffco, Aurora, and Cherry Creek, but still lower than the well compensated Boulder Valley School District, according to a chart prepared by Denver Public Schools.
The district and the union also disagree on the size of the bonuses and incentives. The union favors larger base salaries and smaller incentives, with some as small as $1,000. The district has proposed offering an extra $2,500 to teachers who work in hard-to-fill positions, high-poverty schools, or other schools deemed “highest priority” by criteria not yet set.
About 75 percent of the district’s roughly 5,000 teachers would earn at least one of the $2,500 incentives, and about 25 percent would earn two, according to the district’s calculations.
The district can’t get rid of the incentives altogether because of the way they’re funded. In 2005, Denver voters passed a tax increase to fund ProComp. The ballot language was specific about how the tax revenue would be used, including to pay teachers for things like working in hard-to-fill positions, increasing their teaching skills, and earning positive evaluations.
Giving up the incentives would also mean giving up the tax money, which district officials project will be $33 million next year.
The district and the union are next scheduled to meet Jan. 8, which will give them just 10 days to come up with a deal before the current contract expires and a strike vote looms. The union has been holding community meetings this week to explain to parents and community members why a strike is a possibility. The union has three more such meetings scheduled next week.