As Denver’s current teacher and administration compensation system nears its expiration date, a working group of teachers and district staff are recommending a set of significant tweaks aimed at improving teacher recruitment and retention, especially in hard-to-staff schools.

The Denver Classroom Teachers Association, Denver Public Schools, and the Rose Community Foundation, which helped fund the initial version of the system, released a report late last week based on the feedback of a union- and district-convened Design Team for Compensation and Career Pathways.

The team’s recommendations likely foreshadow the options on the table as the union and district enter negotiations.

“This is basically the beginning of a conversation,” said Henry Roman, president of the DCTA.

The report suggests that DPS’s Professional Compensation System, or ProComp, should be easier to explain and understand. It also suggests a set of stronger incentives to encourage teachers to stay in the classroom and teach in the schools where the district needs them most.

Under the current ProComp system, which earned national attention when it was first implemented in 2005, teachers receive bonuses for working in hard-to-staff or hard-to-serve schools, for exceeding student achievement expectations, or for working at a top-performing school, among other actions. Denver voters approved a $25 million annual property tax increase to fund the incentive program, and several local and national foundations, Rose most prominent among them, donated millions of dollars as well.

But just how those incentives have been working has been the subject of some debate. A report from the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University presented to the district’s board last month finds that salaries under ProComp weren’t dramatically different than they would have been under traditional compensation schemes, and that ProComp incentives were not strongly tied to DPS’s measure of a teachers’ effectiveness in improving students’ test scores.

The new report outlines a possible new framework for ProComp that includes larger incentives that grow over time for staff in more challenging schools. It also includes more established and lucrative pathways for teachers who move into leadership roles.

Roman said that framework is just one of a number of possibilities the DCTA would explore.

The report also outlines eight principles it says should guide the negotiations. From the report:

  • Opportunities for leadership and increased compensation, including base-building opportunities and bonuses, should be available to teachers throughout their career.
  • The compensation system should be easy for teachers to understand. It should also be easy for administrators to understand and support.
  • The compensation system should attract and retain, with real incentives, effective and distinguished teachers in hard-to-serve schools
  • The compensation system should allow effective/distinguished teachers to increase earnings substantially without leaving the classroom.
  • The compensation system should attract, retain and reward effective and distinguished teachers.
  • The compensation system should value professional learning.
  • The compensation system should provide a formal and explicit structure for career progression and opportunities.
  • The design of the system should be sensitive to whether the requirements placed on teachers and school and district leaders are reasonable. The district must have systems/ practices in place to support the compensation system and support teachers in pursuing available opportunities.

The current ProComp agreement expires at the end of December, though it will likely be extended throughout negotiations. The district and the DCTA plan to establish a calendar for negotiations early in the month.