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Marking five years of ProComp

Denver Public Schools officials and education advocates marked the five-year anniversary of a pioneering teacher compensation system Monday, though some it is intended to benefit were in a less than wildly celebratory mood.

Denver teachers union presidents past and present - Kim Ursetta, left, Henry Roman and Becky Wissink - at Monday's ProComp reception.
Denver teachers union presidents past and present - Kim Ursetta, left, Henry Roman and Becky Wissink - at Monday's ProComp reception.
Tajuana Cheshier

Superintendent Tom Boasberg, however, was unequivocal in his enthusiasm about the success to date of the Professional Compensation System for teachers, known as ProComp.

“I’m really grateful for the creativity and cooperation that led to the establishment of Procomp, and the willingness of people to think outside the box, and to be a lot more concerned with whether and how something works in process than whatever their ideology might be,” he said.

Boasberg was one of more than 40 administrators, public officials, teachers and other members of the education community to attend a late-afternoon reception Monday at Denver’s University Club. Others on hand included Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, DPS school board president president Nate Easley and acting state education commissioner – now sole finalist for that post – Robert Hammond.

Public funding for ProComp was passed in November 2005 by Denver voters after the program won approval of 59 percent of Denver Classroom Teachers Association members. It has since been lauded by many, President Barack Obama included, as a national model for merit-based teacher pay.

Denver voters agreed to a $25 million tax hike to pay for ProComp, which was one of the first large-district teacher pay plans in the nation not based exclusively on years of experience and education course credits.

ProComp has enabled some DPS teachers to earn more than $15,000 extra a year for factors such as having a master’s degree, working in a high-poverty school or students exceeding expectations on statewide testing.

Benchmarks including the completion of professional development units, meeting student growth objectives and earning satisfactory evaluations can also add hundreds of dollars to a teacher’s paycheck.

According to DPS, more than 75 percent of the district’s 4,291 eligible teachers are enrolled in the program, earning an average of $7,000 in combined salary increases and incentive payments. DPS charter school teachers are not eligible for ProComp.

In 2008-2009, DPS distributed $19.2 million in ProComp incentives to 3,143 teachers, with an average per-teacher payout of $6,120. Figures for 2009-10 are not yet available.

DCTA president Henry Roman said 80 percent of the union’s roughly 3,000-strong membership is currently enrolled in ProComp.

All teachers hired by DPS since Dec. 31, 2005 are required to participate, and the deadline to opt in for teachers already working in DPS at that time is June 30.

Teachers union president voices concerns

Roman, who attended Monday afternoon’s event, offered a tempered endorsement of the program – in which he also is a participant.

“ProComp has many moving parts and as it was originally envisioned, it had a great deal of promise, in terms of building professional salary,” he said.

“We still have concerns about how ProComp builds permanent salary increases. I think it has a good set of one-time incentives, but I think we still have concerns about how it builds salary increases over time.”

Some changes were made to the ProComp system in 2008, which had the effect of shifting certain incentives from salary base-building to annual bonuses – those changes were perceived by the DCTA as weakening the system’s original intent.

“I hope, in the next two years, we have some data on compensation,” said Roman. “Right now, we have nothing. Actually, NEA (the National Education Association) made a request to do that kind of study but I still need to hear back from the district whether they are going to allow us to use the data. The last thing I heard, a week ago, they said they still need to think about it.”

Kim Ursetta, immediate past president of the DCTA, who helped lobby voters to support funding the plan, opted in to the plan this past August because, she said, “Being in a hard-to-serve, hard-to-staff school, I’m taking all the money I can from the district.”

Ursetta, a bilingual kindergarten teacher at the Math and Science Leadership Academy, is in her 17th year in DPS. She attended Monday’s gathering – and voiced mixed feelings about the success of ProComp.

“We still really haven’t seen any results which show whether ProComp is working, and so we still need to analyze whether ProComp is making a difference in achievement,” she said.

Ursetta said the changes to the system in 2008 undermined an earlier forecast she attributes to then-Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper that, under ProComp, teachers would ultimately be paid closer to “rock stars.”

“Since we changed the system,” Ursetta said, “it’s hard to tell whether it’s really working. I would say ProComp was supposed to raise the floor and the ceiling on teacher compensation. With the changes that we agreed to, it completely changed the original intent.”

No clear answers yet on effectiveness

Evaluations of ProComp, required under the original agreement, have yet to be completed.

Researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder released the first part of a report in April 2010, showing initial positive findings though the report authors were cautious about drawing any direct correlations.

A second part is outstanding and the research contract has been extended through August. Ed Wiley, chair of research and evaluation methodology at CU’s Boulder campus, could not be reached Monday for an update.

Researchers from the University of Colorado at Denver’s School of Public Affairs also are working on an evaluation which has yet to be completed. Paul Teske, the school’s dean, said by email Monday that some parts of the evaluation are finished but not the full report.

Another ProComp veteran on hand for Monday’s gathering was former DCTA president Becky Wissink, who helped develop the pilot program on which it was ultimately based.

A former teacher at Colfax Elementary, Wissink said she is anxious to see what further evaluation shows on ProComp’s success.

However, she said, “Until I hear something that tells me otherwise, I’m going to assume that it’s working well.”

ProComp is up for revision in August 2013.

“It can be reopened (sooner) if there is mutual agreement, but it cannot be reopened unilaterally,” said Roman. “That’s something that could happen in 2012. But for sure, it happens in 2013, because that’s when it expires.”

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