Teaching Profession

Denver Aims to Expand Performance-Pay Plan

By Julie Blair — April 30, 2003 3 min read
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The designers of a nationally watched pilot project in Denver say they’re ready to link pay to student performance for every teacher in the district.

The system proposed last week by the team would reinvent the way teachers are compensated, rewarding those who produce student growth with uncapped annual salaries and providing bonuses to proven educators who take on the toughest teaching assignments.

Sketched out in a draft document short on details, the plan is subject to approval by the school board and the local teachers’ union. The team plans to gather reaction and suggestions from teachers, administrators, and the community before the pay plan is made final in the fall and put to a vote next spring.

“We have set goals to improve student achievement, ... and this is the final piece of the mosaic that we need,” said Jerry Wartgow, the superintendent of the 72,600-student district. “The task force that has put this together has done a remarkable job.”

Teachers’ salaries now are based on the number of years they’ve taught, college degrees, credits earned in graduate coursework, and other professional-development experiences.

But the new Denver model would overturn that traditional salary schedule and allow teachers to earn significantly more than they do now.

Veterans who worked for 20 years and excelled at their jobs, for example, could earn up to $90,000 under the proposed model, said Brad Jupp, who has been on leave from his job as a Denver teacher to help put together the plan. Teachers with doctorates who have worked for 25 years earn $65,000 under the current salary structure.

No other dollar figures were provided in the draft plan.

‘A Lot of Promise’

Teachers said last week that they were intrigued by the idea, but were reserving judgment until they had learned more details.

“From what I’ve seen, there is a lot of promise in it,” said Richard J. Rosivach, a social studies teacher at Denver’s Thomas Jefferson High School, “but there are still way too many questions to be answered for me to feel comfortable with it right now.”

Mr. Rosivach is one of 640 educators participating in the 4-year-old pilot program, which laid the groundwork for the team’s recommendation to expand districtwide.

That initiative, prompted by stalled contract negotiations and developed by representatives of the school district, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, and community members, is now being tested in 16 schools, said Becky Wissink, the president of the 3,200-member union, an affiliate of the National Education Association. (“Denver Pay Plan Offers Lessons, Review Says,” Dec. 12, 2001.)

The aim of the pilot project—and the proposed new system of paying teachers—is to attract, retain, and reward a pool of highly qualified teachers, she said.

In the pilot phase, which concludes this school year, teachers earn their salaries under the traditional pay schedule, but are awarded a maximum bonus of $1,500 when students show progress on goals set jointly by educators and principals.

Under the more elaborate proposed model, however, there would be a set amount of base pay but no other guarantees that salaries would climb annually, Mr. Jupp said.

Teachers who met and exceeded rigorous expectations would earn higher salaries more quickly than their peers. Similarly, those who produced sustained growth for successive classes of students would receive additional bonuses.

Educators could also receive salary increases for the demonstrated acquisition of additional knowledge and skills, and bonuses for agreeing to teach in hard-to-staff schools where student achievement is lagging.

If implemented, the system would be required for all new teachers, Mr. Jupp said. Veterans could elect to join the program.

The proposed plan could cost taxpayers a minimum of $25 million annually, about 12 percent more than the current system, he said. That translates to a $2 property-tax increase per month for the owner of a $250,000 house.

But Denver educators said that talking about the cost of the new pay plan publicly so early in the process made little sense.

“We put this out there prior to the actual vote so that people could start mulling it over,” Ms. Wissink said. “It has to be affordable and sustainable.”

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