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.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”