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DPS-DCTA Negotiations FAQ: I heard …. Is this true?

Jan. 30, 2019

DPS’ latest teacher pay proposal would ensure Denver teachers have among the highest salaries in the state, from starting pay to lifetime earnings. See how DPS’ proposed salary schedule compares to other districts.

DPS teachers who have a bachelor’s degree, a bachelor’s degree plus 20 credits or a master’s degree and who earn at least one incentive — which 72% of DPS teachers do under the proposal — would have the highest lifetime earning potential of any metro-area school district. See chart comparing lifetime earnings among districts.

In addition, DPS’ starting pay for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree would be $45,500, second only to Boulder Valley schools. But in Boulder, a teacher with a bachelor’s degree faces a salary cap after about five years; DPS has no salary caps so teachers can grow their pay over 30 years.

DPS will continue negotiations with DCTA this week.

At the last negotiation session on Jan. 18, DPS offered teachers an average 10% raise in base pay starting next year.  Governor Polis’s Office of State Planning and Budgeting analyzed the teachers’ union proposal and, on Jan. 29, shared their estimate that the DCTA proposal would require an additional $11.3 million in funding.

However, the difference between the district and union proposals is actually more than that — about $6.5 million more — because of how the proposals are structured.

DPS’ proposal includes $2,500 annual incentives for teachers serving in high-poverty or Title 1 schools and another $2,500 annual incentive for those working in 30 schools identified jointly by DPS and the union as the district’s highest-priority schools. Providing additional resources to support higher-poverty schools is aligned to our values and a key strategy to improving outcomes for students.

The union’s proposal drops those amounts to $1,750 annual incentives for high-poverty schools, and eliminates the highest-priority schools altogether.  This means that teachers in the 30 highest priority schools would lose their $2,500 incentive so that all teachers, regardless of the poverty level in their school, could receive about $450 more in base pay.  As we are committed to maintaining these poverty incentives, we are $17.8 million apart from the union’s proposal.

Altogether, DPS would spend $450 million per year on teacher compensation or just over 50% of the total district-managed operating budget, under its proposal.

About that 1% ….

The vast majority of DPS’ budget is spent on compensation for 15,500 employees, operating costs for 160 district-run schools, facility maintenance, student transportation and expenses required by federal or state law, such as serving students with special needs and students learning English.

This leaves just under $150 million for central office expenses; of this, DPS has proposed cutting $10.5 million to put more money into teacher pay. In addition, DPS will be making further cuts to central office expenses to support raises for other employees, including hourly school support staff such as classroom assistants, and to better fund key priorities such as serving kids with special needs.

DPS does not want to shrink school budgets to put more money into teacher pay.

DPS does have millions of dollars in reserves, as required by state law and school board policy. However, it’s one-time funding that would quickly be drained if used for ongoing expenses such as teacher pay.

Colorado law requires school districts to have a minimum of 3% of their operating budgets in reserves and a maximum of 15%. Within these parameters, Denver Board of Education policy requires DPS to put 10% of its operating budget in reserves. Today, the district’s reserves are a little over $100 million.  The 10% reserves allows the district to get stronger credit ratings, which lowers DPS borrowing costs, thereby reducing the costs to Denver taxpayers for bonds.

Under DPS’ latest teacher pay proposal, the district would spend $450 million a year on teacher compensation or just over 50% of our total district-managed budget. So we would quickly go through our reserves if we tried to pay teacher salaries from one-time funds.

In September 2017, the district and teachers’ union signed a master agreement that includes an average annual increase of 5% for 2017-18, 2018-19 and 2019-20. This works out, on average, to a 15% increase over this three-year period.

Under the district’s latest pay proposal, DPS teachers would receive an additional 5% increase next year — for a total increase, on average, of 10% from 2018-19 to 2019-20.

We pay over $4 million per year in incentives, but the vast majority of the administrator incentives were paid to school principals and APs.  About $4 million was spent on school leader incentives and about $500K for central administrators.

Principal incentives align with ProComp incentives for teachers, rewarding principals who teach in high poverty schools and who achieve Top Performance and High Growth. Principals also have retention incentives, as do teachers, for continuing to work in high poverty schools.  This incentive supports our belief that strong leadership continuity is essential to strong teacher performance and sustained student growth.

Average high school principal base salary was $117,100, behind Cherry Creek, Aurora, Adams 5, Littleton and Boulder. With the incentives, DPS high school principal total compensation was third, behind Littleton and Boulder.

For elementary principals, DPS base salary lagged Aurora, Adams, Littleton and Boulder. With incentives, DPS was the second highest-paying district.

Executive incentives for central administrators are used to close the gap in compensation between DPS and other large urban districts as well as local organizations of equal size and complexity. Incentives are based on a combination of personal performance and organizational performance. The Board of Education approves the organizational performance measures and outcomes.

In DPS district-run schools, with DPS teachers, our teacher retention has continued to climb over the last three years to 85%. This is notable given the post-recession retention decreases that were seen in school districts across Colorado.  The current rate is similar to Jefferson County, the second-largest district in the state after Denver.

And for teachers in our highest priority schools, who have been receiving higher incentives for the last four years, we have seen an increase in teacher retention each and every year.

DPS is seeking to increase these retention rates even further through high competitive salaries and a large base-salary increase for teachers who spend ten years in DPS classrooms. We also know that retention is about more than compensation. We know that our teachers want strong leadership, a voice in their school’s improvement planning and a strong culture that supports them and their students. In addition to our proposed incentives, we are working on all these efforts in our high poverty schools to support teacher recruitment and retention.

Based on data collected by the Colorado Department of Education, DPS does have more administrators than the state average. That’s one reason why Superintendent Susana Cordova is proposing cuts of more than $10 million in central administration to pay teachers more.

In negotiations with the Denver teachers’ union, Cordova has committed to “right-sizing” the district’s central administration staff and expenses:

“We have too many priorities, too many people working on those priorities, and not enough impact coming out of that,” said Cordova, a DPS graduate and former DPS teacher who became superintendent on Jan. 7. “I am 100 percent committed to right-sizing what the central office looks like.”

When you hear about the number of “administrators,” that includes central administrators and school administrators like principals. Here are some of the reasons DPS has had more administrators than other districts:

Grant-funded initiatives and initiatives funded by dedicated mill levies:

  • Nearly 10% of DPS central support staff were funded by grants last year, supporting nationally-watched initiatives such as the district’s trauma-informed practices for the district’s Whole Child efforts.
  • The district also funds key initiatives through dedicated mill levies such as the nation’s largest Teacher Leadership & Collaboration program, a leadership model that allows our best teachers to coach and grow other teachers in their schools while staying true to their first love, teaching their own classroom of kids.

Smaller schools

  • DPS has invested in more small schools in an attempt to provide personalized attention for students, particularly those in poverty or those struggling in school. More schools equals more school leaders in buildings.
  • DPS, the state’s largest district, serves approximately 92,000 students in 207 schools — or an average of 444 students per school. In comparison, Jeffco, the next-largest district, serves 84,600 students in 155 schools — or an average of 546 students per school.

Central office administrators also provide a number of key services to the diverse DPS community — including translation and interpretation services and family and community engagement, which are essential to our goal of serving our diverse community well.

We understand that there are lots of questions about the negotiations and we are committed to providing factual information. Please check, where we will be publicly responding to questions submitted by our staff, students, families and community. If you do not see your question answered, please submit it at or email