highest-need schools

Denver teachers union: DPS skirted bargaining rules with new incentive pay program

DCTA and DPS at a bargaining session at Manual High School.

Denver’s teachers union is accusing Denver Public Schools of overstepping its bounds by not getting union buy-in before launching a program that pays teachers extra for working in 30 of its highest-need schools.

The grievance filed this week by the Denver Classroom Teachers Association drew a rebuke from DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg, who in an interview defended the process and said the union has shown “zero flexibility” in finding new ways to attract great teachers to high-poverty schools.

While research has shown that higher pay alone is often not enough to keep teachers from leaving challenging schools, DCTA executive director Pam Shamburg said the union is not opposed to the concept.

However, she said changes such as DPS’s new incentive program “have to be bargained. They just can’t be imposed by the district unilaterally. If (Boasberg) changes his mind tomorrow, they are out the door.”

Boasberg said he was “very disappointed” in the development.

“Our teachers have waited too long for this change,” he said. “Our goal is very simple and very important, which is to get and keep our best teachers in our highest-need schools to close our achievement gaps and give all kids great opportunities.”

The disagreement is the latest between a school district and teachers union in Colorado over changing how teachers are paid. While districts increasingly are eyeing incentive-based reforms — with support from many educators – the conflicts illustrate the challenges of upending a compensation system that traditionally has rewarded teachers’ experience and academic credentials.

Windfall from pension bill

Boasberg announced the program in June alongside Gov. John Hickenlooper at the signing ceremony for a bill that reduces the amount DPS contributes each year to PERA, the state’s retirement fund. That gave the district about $20 million a year of savings to work with.

DPS chose to begin the teacher incentive program with some of that money. Under the plan, more than 1,500 teachers and specialized service providers such as counselors, nurses and social workers at the 30 high-need schools will  receive between $2,000 and $4,000 a year extra. Those with higher evaluation ratings would earn the larger bonuses.

Teachers would earn monthly incentives for working in the schools, and a yearly, one-time bonus for returning to work another year. Those payments are on top of another incentive – what teachers earn by serving more than 100 impoverished schools and programs designated as “hard-to-serve” through ProComp, DPS’s teacher pay plan.

Teachers across the district already are scheduled to get a 5.6 percent raise on average this school year.

Boasberg said in adopting the incentive program, “what we have done is fully consistent with (the collective bargaining agreement), with the law, and with extensive precedents in DPS.” District officials say the union’s grievance will not halt the monthly bonuses.

Boasberg said the 30 schools were chosen based on factors including poverty rates, the number of English language learners and students with disabilities, and past academic performance.

A year ago, the district put in place a similar incentive program for principals or school leaders at the same 30 schools. Boasberg said teachers there deserve the same.

A ProComp working group of district officials and teachers recommended similar changes more than a year ago, Boasberg said. And more than eight months ago, a teacher retention task force focused on teachers in high-need schools recommended the incentives, he said.

During ProComp negotiations last school year, DPS proposed paying for the incentives in high-needs schools by reducing bonuses for teachers in schools identified as top performing on the district’s school performance framework. The union fought that idea, and it was abandoned.

Fleeting bonuses?

Shamburg acknowledges that teacher buy-in but maintains the incentives need to be bargained.

“What we are most opposed to is a compensation system that pits teacher against teacher,” she said. “But we also realize there’s a recognition that it’s just a harder job in some locations than it is in others, and we should take a serious look at what it takes for teachers to stay and increase performance at schools that are really challenging.”

At the same time, the union and others question whether what may be fleeting bonuses will prove effective in attracting and keeping teachers at challenging schools. The DCTA is pushing for raising starting teacher salaries to $50,000 — up from $38,765 for those with bachelor’s degrees and $42,538 with master’s degrees – and permanent pay raises.

The tit-for-tat between DPS and the union follows a similar dispute in Aurora over Superintendent Rico Munn’s more modest plan to pay incentives to teachers rated effective or higher who stay at one of the district’s most at-risk elementary schools.

The Aurora Education Association filed a grievance, and an arbitrator agreed with the union that Munn lacked the authority to pay teachers at Paris Elementary anything other that what is spelled out in the district’s collective bargaining agreement.

The school board this week scolded Munn and accepted the arbitrator’s findings, while directing Munn to work with the union to figure out how to pay teachers the incentives they were promised.

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 cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

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.”