By now, you’ve likely heard that the Denver school district and teachers union reached a deal this week on how — and how much — Denver educators will be paid.

The agreement came just before dawn Thursday, as teachers were waking up and getting ready to strike for a fourth day. Instead, many headed back to their classrooms, to the delight of their students. The Denver Classroom Teachers Association hailed the tentative agreement — which still must be ratified by union members and the Denver school board — as a victory.

“Educators in Denver Public Schools now have a fair, predictable, and transparent salary schedule,” said Rob Gould, a teacher and the union’s lead negotiator.

So what exactly is in the deal? Here’s a breakdown.

A new salary schedule
It will go from $45,800 for a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree to $100,000 for a teacher with a doctorate and at least 20 years in the classroom next year. It will allow teachers to earn larger raises more consistently than under the previous system.

Here’s how: The new salary schedule has 20 “steps” and seven “lanes.”

In many districts, “steps” correlate to a teachers’ years of experience. Each year, teachers go up a step and get a raise. In Denver Public Schools, it works a little differently. For teachers to go up a step every year, they must receive a performance rating of either “approaching,” “effective,” or “distinguished.” Educators who are “not meeting” cannot go up a step.

“Lanes” represent a teacher’s level of education or training. The first lane is for teachers who have a bachelor’s degree only. The second lane is for teachers who have a bachelor’s degree plus 18 college credits or the equivalent amount of in-district training — and so on, all the way up to a doctorate.

Educators move into the next lane whenever they reach that level of education. Moving a lane nets educators a bigger raise than moving a step.

The salaries on the new schedule are higher than on the current one. For example, starting pay for a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree this year is $42,789.

But there’s another reason why this new salary schedule is a big deal. In the past, the Denver salary schedule was used only to set an educator’s starting salary. In other words, when they were hired, they’d be placed on the schedule based on their experience and education.

There were no yearly step raises or opportunities to move lanes. The only ways an educator could raise their base salary were to get an advanced degree or license (a $3,851 raise this year), complete a “professional development unit” training course (an $855 raise this year), or earn a positive evaluation (an $855 or $427 raise this year, depending on a teacher’s years of service).

There was also a huge catch: Teachers with 14 or more years of service could not increase their base pay by completing professional development units; they got a lump-sum payment instead. And a positive evaluation only netted those teachers a $427 raise, as opposed to $855.

This new salary schedule has no such limits, making it a better deal for veteran educators.

Several different ways to move lanes
The new agreement allows teachers to move lanes several different ways. That’s important to teachers because lane movements net the biggest raises. Educators can move lanes by:

  • Earning college credits. Every time an educator earns 18 credits, they move a lane.
  • Completing professional development units. One unit is worth three credits, similar to a college class. Educators can complete up to two professional development units per year for the purposes of lane movement.
  • Earning continuing education credits. (The rules are still being worked out.)
  • Earning an advanced license. This is most relevant for the non-teachers covered by the contract, such as nurses, counselors, psychologists, and speech language pathologists.
  • Earning National Board Certification.
  • Ten years of service in Denver classrooms within the past 15 years.

There are a couple of caveats to that last one. Educators can only cash in their “longevity” lane change once. And it can’t be used to move into the doctorate lane. To be in that lane, an educator must have a doctorate. Those in the lane just before the doctorate lane — master’s degree plus 54 credits — who hit 10 years of service will get a $2,000 bump to their base salary. Those in the doctorate lane who have nowhere higher to move will get the same.

A note about professional development units: Educators who had more than six units “banked” as of Jan. 19 — meaning they completed them but hadn’t cashed them in for raises — can either trade their units for a lane change or receive a lump-sum payment of $1,700 per unit. Educators with fewer than six units banked get the lump-sum payment.

Three incentives
Under Denver Public Schools’ educator pay system, called ProComp (read the history here), educators earn bonuses and incentives on top of their base salary.

The number of bonuses and incentives, and the dollar amount associated with each, has changed over the years ProComp has been in effect. That variability is one of the things teachers found frustrating and confusing about it. This year, for example, there are six incentives and bonuses (and even more confusingly, two of them aren’t even part of ProComp.)

Under the new agreement, there are three incentives:

A $2,000 incentive for educators who work in Title I schools. To qualify as Title I, at least 60 percent of a school’s students must be eligible for free or reduced-price meals. The majority of district-run schools are Title I.

A $2,000 incentive for educators who work in hard-to-fill positions. A team of district staff and union representatives decide which positions qualify for this one. This year, there are 13 qualifying positions, including middle and high school math teachers, nurses, and teachers who deliver instruction to English language learners in Spanish, known as English Language Acquisition-Spanish teachers.

A $750 incentive for educators who work in 10 “distinguished” schools. The same district-union team will set the criteria here. It will be based on how well schools support students socially and emotionally, not on student test scores.

One retention bonus
Educators who work in 30 schools deemed “highest-priority” by the district and the union will receive a $3,000 retention bonus for returning to work at those schools the following year.

The union has openly questioned whether such retention bonuses actually work to keep teachers. To answer that question, the new agreement requires the district and the union to do a joint research study “to examine the root causes of educator retention and turnover” in the highest-priority schools and identify possible solutions. According to the agreement, “the findings shall be utilized to determine if the incentive shall be continued.”

Tuition reimbursement
Educators can receive $1,000 a year to be spent on repayment of student loans or reimbursement for the costs of training directly related to their job. The maximum reimbursement an educator can receive in their career is $6,000.

Cost-of-living raises for the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years
Educators will get one for the 2019-20 school year, too, but that one was previously negotiated.

Got more questions? We answered some of the most common ones here.