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Denver District, Teachers Reach Tentative Accord

By Vaishali Honawar — August 26, 2008 2 min read
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The bitter tug-of-war over Denver’s performance-pay plan has ended with the teachers’ union and the school district reaching a compromise agreement that includes a 3 percent pay raise for all teachers and higher starting salaries.

The pact also includes increased bonuses for those who teach in hard-to-staff schools and hard-to-fill subjects. Veteran teachers, however, could see their raises shrink sharply after 13 years of service.

Contract negotiations in the 74,000-student district attracted the national spotlight this year because of disagreements between the district and the union over changes proposed by Superintendent Michael Bennet to the pay system called Professional Compensation Plan for Teachers, or ProComp. (“Model Plan of Merit Pay in Ferment,” July 30, 2008.)

Boon to Beginners

The Denver Classroom Teachers Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association, wanted to wait until an external study of the plan is released next year before making major changes, and had threatened a strike if the district continued to push forward with the changes.

Proposed Contract Highlights

3 percent salary raise for teachers in first year, and an added 0.25 percent cost-of-living increase for the following two years.

15 percent increase for the average teacher already in or entering Procomp

$7,000 increase for average beginning teacher

$1,278 increase in bonuses for teachers who work in hard-to-staff schools and hard-to-fill subjects

Creation of a work group to study peer assistance and review

Five late-start days dedicated to teacher professional development

SOURCES: Denver Public Schools; Denver Classroom Teachers Association

This morning, union President Kim Ursetta called the contract “the best deal we could get for our teachers.”

“There were compromises on both sides,” she said.

ProComp is one of the most watched merit-pay plans in the nation because it was jointly devised by the school district and the teachers’ union, leading many to consider it a model plan. Denver’s voters in 2004 agreed to property-tax increases to give it $25 million each year.

But school officials said modifications such as increasing starting salaries were needed to help attract more teachers to the district. Also, each year only part of the funds in ProComp, which add up to $31 million including interest, were paid out. This school year, for instance, less than $7 million will be given out because of the way the program is structured.

School officials and citizens’ groups said instead of building up a surplus, they would like to see all the money targeted toward increasing student achievement.

Under the tentative contract, which teachers are expected to approve by Sept. 9, starting teacher salaries would increase from $35,000 to $42,000, and teachers who agree to teach in hard-to-staff areas and hard-to-fill subjects would see bonuses increase from $1,067 to $2,345.

The proposed contract also adds two more days to the school year, including one day for teacher planning activities.

“This three-year deal will accomplish our mutual goal of rewarding and retaining our current teachers [and] attracting new teachers to DPS,” Superintendent Bennet said in a statement issued jointly with Ms. Ursetta.

Later Opportunities

The agreement would include the formation of a work group to study peer-assistance and -review programs and to make recommendations to improve the district’s practices on mentoring, induction, remediation, and dismissal of teachers.

Teachers would also get more planning time and five late-start days dedicated to professional development.

The teachers’ union board planned to meet tonight and recommend the contract to its 3,200 members. Still, Ms. Ursetta said the agreement has changed the original design and intent of ProComp.

She added that there will be an opportunity to reopen negotiations on ProComp when the external evaluation is released next fall.

“[The new contract] changes the way ProComp was implemented, and we’ll be anxious to work with the district and the outside researcher to see what they have found, what works and what doesn’t work,” she said.

A version of this article appeared in the September 03, 2008 edition of Education Week as Denver District, Teachers Reach Tentative Accord

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