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.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

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