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DPS, teachers’ union reach accord

Teachers in Denver Public Schools would receive their first cost-of-living increase in years under a tentative agreement between the district and union announced Tuesday, though the raise is contingent upon voters agreeing to a tax hike in November.

The three-year agreement, which must be ratified by teachers and approved by the Denver school board, comes more than two months before the current contract expires Aug. 31.

It also follows three years of cost-of-living pay freezes and only intermittent increases for the usual annual raises for another year of experience and additional education degrees, or what’s known in education lingo as “steps and lanes.”

Teachers in numerous Colorado school districts have worked in recent years without raises as plummeting state revenues have led to decreased education funding.

“It certainly is better than nothing,” Melissa Verdeal, a middle school teacher who serves as vice president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, said of the tentative deal. “I do believe we have a ways to go to get to a place where teachers are fairly compensated for their work and their professional experience … but I think this is a step in the right direction.”

Under the terms of the tentative agreement, Denver teachers would receive their scheduled increases for additional experience and education.

They also would receive a 1 percent cost-of-living raise if a proposed $49 million tax increase for operating dollars is placed on the November ballot and approved by voters. Denver school board members will vote later this summer on placing that tax question, plus a $457 school bond issue, on the ballot.

If the $49 million increase is approved, teachers would receive the 1 percent cost-of-living raise retroactive to Sept. 1.

In addition, if the increase passes, teachers would receive a .5 percent raise in 2013-14 and a .5 percent raise in 2014-15.

Other pieces of the agreement include more planning time for teachers. For example, middle and high school teachers currently receive 200 minutes of planning time per week. Under the tentative agreement, that would increase to 345 minutes. Elementary teachers would see their planning time increase by 100 minutes per week.

Verdeal said the current contract requires all teachers receive 40 minutes of uninterrupted planning time daily. Under the tentative agreement, school administrators and members of School Leadership teams would decide how the additional planning time is used.

DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg, in an email about the agreement, said “the most important change” sought in the contract was removing “caps” on teachers’ collaborative planning time.

“Just like in any profession, teamwork and shared learning among teachers is critical to growth and effectiveness,” he said. “We alone among neighboring districts, however, for many years had a contract that capped that collaborative teacher planning time, and it is very good to see in this new agreement that those caps are removed.”

He noted the change does not decrease teacher classroom time with students.

Some 80 percent of DPS teachers are part of the ProComp pay plan, which rewards teachers for specific areas such as working in high-poverty schools and meeting student-growth objectives. Under the terms of the tentative agreement, ProComp teachers will receive the “equivalent” of the pay increases for additional experience and education awarded to teachers on the more traditional salary schedule. They also would receive any cost-of-living increases approved by voters.

Boasberg said the additional experience and education components, or the “equivalent,” averages about 2 percent per year across all teachers. Verdeal said it’s difficult to give an average, or even a range, since situations vary widely by individual teacher. Some teachers, for example, have topped out on the salary schedule and no longer receive annual increases for experience.

What the tentative agreement means is that about 20 percent of teachers – those not in ProComp – may see increased compensation, in addition to the potential 1 percent cost-of-living raise, based on years of experience and additional education such as college credit hours or advanced degrees or certificates.

For the 80 percent of teachers in ProComp, they would get the potential 1 percent raise, and they may earn extra compensation based on completion of the various ProComp components.

“So really, the only thing that the settlement guarantees every teacher in DPS is the 1 percent” cost-of-living increase, should voters agree, Verdeal said.

Still, she said she believes the tentative agreement represents the best deal possible.

“We’re really happy that we can start off the school year with the bargaining done,” she said, adding, “Everything is contingent upon ratification … so teachers will have to decide is this is the deal we can accept.

“I think we did everything we could do to get the best deal possible and, by getting compensation, that is a really positive thing.”

See the DPS/DCTA press release and read DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg’s take on the agreement.