Valuing Our Teachers with Improved Compensation

We’re pleased to share that the Denver Public Schools and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association reached a tentative agreement on a new ProComp contract shortly after 6 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 14, after negotiating through the night.

The tentative agreement invests an additional $23 million in teacher pay. It includes an average base salary increase of 11.7% next year and a cost-of-living increase the following two years. The ProComp incentive for teachers in the highest-poverty schools increases to $3000, and the incentives for teaching in Title I schools and hard-to-fill positions are $2000.

The tentative agreement must be ratified by the DCTA membership and then approved by the Denver Board of Education

See DPS/DCTA Agreement »

Archive of Negotiation Information

FAQ: Claims about Negotiations and Teacher Pay

I heard DPS' proposed 10% increase still doesn't bring Denver teachers up to competitive salary levels in the metro area. Is this true?

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.

I heard DPS and the teachers’ union are $8.5 million apart and that is only 1% of DPS’ total budget. Is this true?

DPS has offered teachers an average 10% raise in base pay starting next year.  Gov. Polis’ 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 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 for 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.

I heard DPS has millions of dollars in reserves that it could use to pay for teacher raises. Is this true?

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.

I heard DPS teachers haven’t gotten a raise in years. Is this true?

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.

I heard DPS spends $4 million per year in bonuses on administrators. Is this true?

We pay over $4 million per year in incentives, but the vast majority of the administrator incentives was paid to school principals and assistant principals. About $4 million was spent on school leader incentives and about $500,000 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.

The average DPS high school principal’s base salary was $117,100, behind Cherry Creek, Aurora, Adams 5, Littleton and Boulder. With the incentives, DPS high school principals’ 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.

I heard that, in DPS, more than 20% of teachers turn over every year. Is this true?

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 competitive salaries and a large base-salary increase for teachers who spend ten years in our 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.

I heard DPS has twice as many administrators as any other school district in Colorado. Is this true?

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 DPS community — including translation and interpretation services, and family and community engagement — which are essential to our goal of serving our diverse community well.

How do DPS teachers get paid and what is being negotiated?

DPS and the Denver teachers union — the Denver Classroom Teachers Association or DCTA — are jointly working to improve teacher pay in our schools. We agree that the current system needs to be simplified and that we need to invest more money in teacher compensation.

The current system is referred to as “ProComp” — short for a professional compensation system for teachers. It was intended to incent and reward the best educators to come to DPS and to stay in DPS. It got that name when Denver taxpayers agreed in 2005 to fund a mill levy that gives DPS $33 million a year to invest in incentives for things like working in high-poverty schools or hard-to-fill positions. 

Read the ProComp ballot language approved by voters.

DPS has two big contracts with the union. A master agreement that covers things like annual raises, class sizes and the amount of planning time for teachers. And the ProComp Agreement, which covers how the ProComp incentives work. Learn more about ProComp and how it works here. In 2017, DPS and DCTA renegotiated the master agreement and that agreement will be in effect until 2022. As a part of that agreement, DPS invested an additional $45 million in teacher compensation to guarantee average teacher raises of 5% in 2017-18, 2018-19 and 2019-20 (total of 15% over three years).

Since the beginning of 2018, DPS and DCTA have been negotiating the ProComp Agreement. Regardless of what happens with these negotiations, teachers are still guaranteed raises for the 2019-20 school year. However, DPS and DCTA agree that we can do better and we’ve made some great progress so far on our mutual goals — specifically returning to a simple and transparent salary table and committing to invest more money in that system.

In its latest Jan. 31 proposal, DPS is offering an additional $26.5 million in teacher compensation. That’s on top of the $45 million committed to teacher raises in 2017 and on top of the $33 million in voter-approved annual funding for ProComp.

The additional $26.5 million in teacher pay includes:

  • $10.5 million in cuts to central-office or school-support staff and services.
  • $6 million from the governor’s anticipated budget that funds full-day kindergarten. Because DPS has been subsidizing full-day kindergarten, this will free up funds for teacher pay.
  • $6 million from the balance in the ProComp trust fund, to be used to transition educators to the new salary schedule.
  • $4 million from the governor’s anticipated budget to reduce the “negative factor” in state funding, thus increasing funding for DPS.

What are the facts about teacher pay in DPS and what would it look like under DPS’ current proposal? How does it compare to other districts?

Average teacher pay this year in Denver Public Schools — calculated by dividing the number of teachers by the total dollar investment in teacher pay — is $58,892 for regular classroom teachers and $60,228 for those teaching children with special needs. This salary is for 187 days of work a year.

Here are examples of what the district’s latest proposal would mean in actual pay for our teachers:

  • Starting salary for DPS teachers would be $45,500, higher than Cherry Creek, Aurora and Jefferson County, and second only to Boulder Valley schools.
  • Increases the average DPS teacher’s base salary by 10% from 2018-19 to 2019-20.
  • A DPS teacher with a bachelor’s degree and five years of experience earning one ProComp incentive (based on current data, 72% of DPS teachers would receive at least one incentive) would earn $56,750 — the highest rate for this experience and education level in the metro area.
  • At the end of ten years, this same DPS teacher with a bachelor’s degree and earning at least one incentive would earn a total of $558,750 — the highest in the metro area.

See more examples of how the district’s proposal would impact teacher pay.

DPS teachers are paid differently than teachers in other districts and that’s by design. When Denver voters approved ProComp in 2005, they were approving a nationally groundbreaking plan, developed by district and union leaders, to pay teachers more based on factors such as performance and their willingness to serve in more challenging schools or positions. Read the original ballot language, which continues to be binding.

Similarly, Denver voters in 2016 approved an additional $14.5 million investment in our efforts to attract, retain and grow great teachers, particularly our teacher leadership model, which pays our strongest teachers up to $5,000 more annually to coach their peers.

While we are grateful to Denver voters for additional funding for teacher pay, it makes it more difficult to make comparisons across districts. For example, annual calculations by the Colorado Department of Education do not include ProComp funding in DPS, despite the fact that it contributes $33 million to teacher compensation each year and the average DPS teacher earns more than $4,000 each year in ProComp incentives.

Our research consistently shows teacher pay in DPS ranks among the top three in the metro area. DPS and the union signed an agreement last year that will increase DPS teacher pay by 15% over three years, or through 2019-20. And our latest proposal would add another $26.5 million, on top of the $33 million in ProComp funding approved by taxpayers.

See teacher pay schedules from other metro-area districts.

How is DPS working to use taxpayer dollars wisely?

DPS has cut administrative expenses in recent years to pay teachers more, and we have agreed to continue to cut more.

Over the past four years, we cut central-office or school-support staff and services by 8% to help fund higher raises for teachers and put more money into schools. Our latest proposal continues this trend, adding $26.5 million on top of the $33 million in ProComp funding approved by Denver voters in 2005.

Sources for the additional 26.5 million in additional funds for teacher pay include:

  • $7 million in cuts to central-office or school-support staff and services.
  • $6 million from the governor’s anticipated budget that funds full-day kindergarten. Because DPS has been subsidizing full-day kindergarten, this will free up funds for teacher pay.
  • $6 million from the balance in the ProComp trust, to be used to transition educators to the new salary schedule.
  • $4 million from the governor’s anticipated budget to reduce the “negative factor” in state funding, thus increasing funding for DPS.

The union’s latest proposal seeks an additional $29 million for teachers, or nearly double the $33 million in ProComp funding approved by voters.

It’s important to understand that investing in great teachers for our kids is about more than teacher pay. For example, a top priority for DPS and our community is closing student achievement gaps. This means investing in efforts like culturally-responsive training, practices and materials for our teachers, increasing mental health and whole child supports, better teacher to student ratios in our most highly impacted schools as well as increasing their pay.

Finally, while the teachers’ union represents about 5,500 employees, DPS employs nearly 15,000 across our district. We have also sought to make significant investments in raising the pay of employees who are currently earning the district’s lowest hourly pay rates. It’s essential to the operation of our schools that we also offer competitive wages to our classroom assistants or paraprofessionals, bus drivers, custodians and food-service workers.

How is DPS helping teachers keep up with the high cost-of-living in Denver?

Our latest pay proposal includes increasing a new teacher’s starting salary to $45,500, higher than Cherry Creek, Aurora, Jefferson County, Adams Five-Star and Littleton. It also includes increased supports for every stage of an educator’s career.

In addition to proposed pay increases, DPS is actively partnering with organizations to support our employees as our city’s cost-of-living escalates. This includes partnering with housing programs, such as Landed, that offer down payment assistance, and collaborating with Oakwood Homes to offer educators discounts on new homes.

DPS also has created a cost-of-living toolkit that connects teachers with services to help with home-buying, childcare, prescriptions, public transportation and parking, insurance, tuition reimbursement, pay advances and educator discounts.

Like many other employers in Denver, we are constantly seeking new ways to support our employees. If you are aware of opportunities, please email

Retaining Great Teachers

Teacher retention in DPS has increased over the past three years, with 86% of our educators returning to our schools this year.

For our teachers of color and top-performing teachers, retention was even greater: 87% of our teachers of color and 91% of our top-performing teachers returned to DPS this year.

We believe retaining strong teachers means thriving schools and better outcomes for our kids.

Learn more about teacher retention in DPS. »

Meet the DPS Leaders Negotiating Teacher Pay

Susana Cordova, Superintendent

Susana, a former teacher, is mom to a DPS graduate and a high school senior.

Debbie Hearty, Chief Human Resources Officer

Debbie is a former teacher and mom to two DPS students.

Mark Ferrandino, Chief Financial Officer

Mark has one student in DPS, a first-grader.

Michelle Berge, Chief Legal Counsel

Michelle has a first-grader in DPS as well as an incoming kindergarten student.

Additional Information and Background

In Denver Public Schools, we are committed to working with our teachers to build a salary system that better supports our educators at every stage of their careers.

In negotiations, DPS added $26.5 million to teacher pay ($6 million of which was for the cost to transition to a new schedule). This presented an average 10% salary increase for teachers next year, as we worked to find common ground with the teachers’ union.

Unfortunately, we were unable to reach an agreement by the Jan. 18 deadline and the union voted to strike. 

We remained absolutely committed to doing everything in our power to prevent a strike and reached out to state leaders to request intervention.

We also asked the union to return to negotiations. We met again Jan. 31 and presented a new proposal; we were disappointed union leaders did not respond — instead, they left negotiations more than an hour early.

On Feb. 6, Governor Polis announced that the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment will not intervene at this time in our contract negotiations with the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA). It is his hope that we continue negotiating to avert a strike. This is DPS’ wholehearted goal as well. If we cannot reach an agreement, the DCTA has announced plans for its members to strike starting Monday, Feb. 11.

On Saturday, Feb. 9, DPS presented an updated proposal that responds to what we have heard from teachers, aligns to our values of equity and retention, honors the ProComp ballot language, and significantly increases the base pay for all our educators. DCTA responded with a counter proposal that offered technical changes to the process for earning additional pay for professional development. They did not make any offers that brought us closer together on financial terms.

We were disappointed that the union walked out on negotiations instead of continuing to work toward an agreement. DCTA ended negotiations at 7:30 p.m. and indicated they will not return to the table until Tuesday, Feb. 12.

There’s still time to reach an agreement. We are willing to continue working every minute we have available to us to avoid a strike and the disruption it would mean for our students, families and teachers. There has been progress the past few days, and we remain ready to come back to the table to keep working toward an agreement.

While we are committed to finding an agreement and avoiding a strike, our number one priority as a district will continue to be the safety of our students. We are working hard to ensure there are enough licensed DPS team members and guest teachers to keep our schools and classrooms open. Most schools will stay open during normal hours. If a strike does occur, all ECE classes will be canceled for the duration of the strike. We will not be charging tuition for any days that our ECE classrooms are closed. 

We appreciate the flexibility and patience of our community during this difficult time. We’ll continue to share updates as they’re available.

Timeline of Recent Events

Five all-day bargaining sessions were held in January before the DPS-union contract expired at midnight, Jan. 18. All bargaining sessions are public and open to anyone who would like to attend. The sessions were Jan. 8, 11, 15, 17 and 18. Watch past meetings here.

  • Friday, Jan. 18, 9 a.m.-9 p.m., Acoma Campus. Final bargaining session; contract expired at midnight.
  • Saturday, Jan. 19 and Tuesday, Jan. 22, union members vote on whether to strike and, late Tuesday, union leaders announce the vote is to strike. However, due to state law, the earliest teachers could strike is Jan. 28.
  • Wednesday, Jan. 23, DPS files a request for intervention with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, asking state officials to intervene and facilitate a resolution to avoid a strike. Under Colorado law, a strike cannot occur while state officials are considering such a request.
  • Monday, Jan. 28, the teachers union files a motion with state officials, asking they stay out of the matter and allow teachers to strike. State officials have until Feb. 11 to make a decision about intervention.
  • Thursday, Jan. 31, while the two sides wait for a decision by state officials, they return to the bargaining table. DPS makes another pay proposal, which is rejected by the union. Union leaders decline to counter and leave negotiations more than an hour early.