Education Funding

Teacher-Pay Plan in Denver Gets Foundation Boost

By Linda Jacobson — February 15, 2005 3 min read
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Three foundations announced last week that they are granting the Denver school district more than $2 million to support the setup of a new teacher-compensation system that rewards teachers not for how long they’ve been on the job, but for their skills and accomplishments in the classroom.

The Denver-based Rose Community Foundation is donating $1 million to help cover the costs associated with phasing in the new system, called ProComp, or the Professional Compensation System for Teachers.

The Los Angeles-based Broad Foundation has awarded the 70,000-student district $650,000, which will also be used for the transition to the new pay system that educators and policymakers nationwide have been following.

Veronica Davey of the Eli Broad Foundation announces her organization's financial support of the teacher-pay plan in Denver.

Approved by the district’s school board and the 3,200-member Denver Classroom Teachers Association last year, ProComp is based on a pilot pay-for-performance plan that has been in place in the district for about five years. Under ProComp, teachers would be rewarded with raises and bonuses for improving student achievement. Additional incentives would be available for satisfactory evaluations as well as for attracting teachers to the schools with the greatest needs. (“Teacher Vote on Merit Pay Down to Wire,” March 17, 2004.)

Finally, the Daniels Fund, located in Denver, is granting $500,000 specifically for the creation of the ProComp Assessment Profile, which will use subject-area assessments to help determine which teachers are performing at a high level and should receive bonuses and raises.

“We appreciate the foundations’ support in this new endeavor,” Becky Wissink, the president of the National Education Association affiliate, said during an interview last week when the grants were announced. “We hope to create systems that are fair and understandable for teachers.”

Should taxpayer funding for the merit-based raises and bonuses come through, the new pay system will take effect under new district leadership.

Superintendent Jerry Wartgow announced last week that he will resign at the end of the school year. In his “state of the district” speech, the 62-year-old leader told school system administrators and leaders that the district has a strong enough team to carry forward with the changes that are in progress, including ProComp.

“I have carefully considered the timing of my departure, and I believe that this timeline will ensure a smooth transition and continued momentum of the many exciting initiatives that are currently under way,” said Mr. Wartgow, who has been at the helm of the Denver schools for four years.

Awaiting the Taxpayers

The grants come in advance of a Nov. 8 election in which city voters will decide on a property-tax increase that would raise the $25 million annually needed to support the new pay scale.

The donations will allow the district to complete the development of the system so that voters will be able to make a more informed decision, said Brad Jupp, who has been on leave from his teaching duties to oversee the new pay plan.

“The grant-givers have felt that they are investing in something wise, regardless of the outcome [of the vote],” Mr. Jupp said. “So much of what we do for education reform is built with less deliberation than we’ve built ProComp. We have to prove to people that this is going to be more durable.”

Some elements of the program are already in use, he said, such as the objective-setting process in which teachers set “measurable” goals in areas in which they teach.

The fact that Mr. Jupp used to lead contract negotiations for the union is evidence of how united the district and the union are over fundamentally changing the way teachers are paid—an approach that is still largely rejected by teachers’ unions.

“To collaborate on a new, innovative pay system is unique,” said Ms. Wissink, who was in the midst of current negotiations with the district last week at the time of the press conference held to announce the grants.

The new pay plan also has strong backing from Denver Mayor John W. Hickenlooper.

“We are very fortunate in Denver to have leaders in our school district and leaders among the teachers who are willing to work together through some very tough discussions and emerge with reforms that are in the best interests of our community’s kids,” the mayor, a Democrat, said in a press release.

This is the second time the Daniels Fund has donated $500,000 to the project. Since 1999, the district has received more than $6.5 million in grants from foundations for research, technology, and other expenses related to ProComp.

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A version of this article appeared in the February 16, 2005 edition of Education Week as Teacher-Pay Plan in Denver Gets Foundation Boost

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