By Lisa Berdie
By Lisa Berdie, Policy & Research Director, A+ Colorado
DPS and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA) are staring down a January 18th expiration of the current ProComp agreement, and, potentially, a strike if an agreement is not reached. Where DCTA and DPS will land on the system design and overall amount allocated to teacher compensation are still significant question marks. The decisions in particular about teacher incentives is likely to have a significant impact on where Denver’s most experienced and effective end up of teaching. Will Denver’s best teachers be incentivized to work in schools or classrooms that most need their support? Or will go back to system where there was little pay incentive to work with Denver’s students that are struggling the most?
We also know that this iteration of the DPS teacher pay system will be far more transparent, predictable, and understandable (this is good), with guaranteed salary increases, and without an explicit tie to the district’s school accountability system.
Interested in the history and impact (or lack thereof) of ProComp over the past 15 years, and A+’s proposal for a strategic teacher pay system? Check out A Fair Share: A New Proposal for Teacher Pay in Denver. While the numbers for the A+ teacher pay scale were based on 2016, it provides a useful comparison of what’s possible. This report also compiled all of the research on teacher pay and best practices and included feedback from DPS administration, DCTA and the nation’s leading researchers on teacher compensation.
At A+ we hope the next few days of bargaining are productive, and address real questions about how the district invests in and supports teachers financially. The good news is that the two sides seem not that far apart in terms of the competing proposals. We hope this gap can be closed so that we do not cascade into what will be Denver’s first strike in twenty five years. Additionally, while the impending strike may be catalyzed by disagreements about how teachers will or will not be able to move between lanes for example, it reflects a bigger challenge about how to support teachers. This is not just a DPS issue; Colorado faces a teacher shortage, and compensation is a critical lever as districts recruit and retain classroom educators. After the voters turned down a statewide tax increase this fall despite increased attention on the issue with last year’s national and local #RedforEd protests and rallies, there is a real question about how we as a state (and local districts) invest what dollars we have to support teachers and students, and what the tradeoffs are for how teachers are paid and how much is put into teacher pay.
In Denver’s current negotiations, disagreements remain over the amount of money invested in teacher pay, how much each proposal will cost, and how the salary schedule works. Currently, DPS has committed to putting $23 million more into teacher salaries in addition to the $45 million over three years that the district and DCTA had previously agreed upon (though DCTA takes strong issue with what constitutes “new” dollars). There remains a significant disagreement over how much funding the district could offer and what each of the proposals will cost both in the near and longer term. While DPS has offered $7 million in central office cuts, we know that DPS has one of the highest ratios of administrators to teachers in the state, and that the district must be more transparent about how these tradeoffs support teachers and students, and right-size so that more funds can go to schools and teacher salaries.
These funds would feed into a redesigned teacher pay system. Current negotiations about the system design reflect the past few years’ worth of focus groups and surveys of teachers, and are moving away from less predictable one-time bonuses, toward a more predictable and transparent salary schedule. Indeed both DCTA and the district’s proposed pay systems look much more similar to a traditional salary schedule where teachers move up a “step,” smaller base salary increases, for each year of experience (and a performance evaluation above “not meeting expectations”), and can move up a “lane”, larger base salary increases.
Here is the rub: DCTA proposes more “lanes” which teachers can access with more continuing education, even when that education is not the completion of a terminal degree. DPS proposes fewer lanes which teachers can access with a terminal degree, 30 educational credits in addition to a masters, an advanced licence, National Board Certification, or 10 years of experience. With fewer lanes, the district proposal offers bigger raises. With more lanes, the DCTA proposal offers more frequently accessible smaller raises driven by education credits that research has shown have little or no impact on student performance. Additionally, DCTA’s proposal has step increases for 20 years which are slightly larger during the first 10 years than years 10 through 20. Under the district proposal, teachers access step increases for 30 years, with the biggest raises happening in the first five years of a teacher’s career. As we have said before, it is critical that teachers be able to get to a living wage in early in their careers with the ability to live in the community in which they work, so that the money is not the reason that Denver teachers leave the profession. Both proposals include some incentives to teach in hard-to-staff positions, Title I schools, and high priority schools, though the incentive sizes are larger under the DPS proposal. We know that larger incentives can have a significant impact on getting teachers to teach and stay in classrooms and schools that are the most challenging and have the highest turnover. It is critical that large incentives remain for these schools and classrooms if DPS hopes to close the largest achievement gaps in the state. Removing or reducing these incentives will grow the existing achievement gaps.