Pay Day

Some Denver teachers to get ProComp bonuses this month, thanks to district-union agreement

Teachers at the Denver Green School are among those who will receive bonuses.

Denver teachers whose students did well on state tests, in addition to teachers who work in so-called hard-to-serve schools with high populations of students living in poverty, are expected to receive bonuses in their December paychecks.

The bonuses are part of ProComp, Denver Public Schools’ teacher incentive pay system. These particular one-time bonuses are usually given in the fall but they’re coming late this year, after months of bargaining between the district and the teachers union. The two sides had to figure out different ways to distribute the money due to changes in state tests.

There are several different incentives under ProComp but these bonuses relate to three of them: High Growth, which is usually given to teachers whose schools show a certain amount of academic growth on state tests; Top Performing, which is similar but also takes into account other measures, such as graduation rates; and Exceeds Expectations, a bonus given to teachers whose individual students show a certain level of academic growth on the tests.

The bonuses are usually based on scores from state tests taken the previous spring. However, Colorado switched last spring to a new set of tests, known as PARCC. Because the bonuses rely heavily on academic growth, a measure of how well students do on tests year after year compared to their peers, and because there is only one year of PARCC data available, it wasn’t possible to distribute the ProComp incentives in the same way.

So the district and the union had to come up with a different way to dole out the money.

The agreement, which was announced this week, calls for combining the High Growth and Top Performing incentives and giving a bonus of up to $5,100 to teachers at schools that meet certain criteria. They include whether the school’s students had been showing growth on the old state tests and how the students did on the new tests compared to students at similar schools.

The criteria are a fair proxy for how those two incentives are usually distributed, said Denver Classroom Teachers Association Executive Director Pam Shamburg.

Teachers and licensed staff at 83 schools will receive those bonuses, according to a letter signed by Superintendent Tom Boasberg and DCTA President Henry Roman.

But Shamburg said it was more difficult to come up with a comparable way to distribute the Exceeds Expectations incentive. In the end, DPS and the union decided to give that money to teachers and licensed staff who work in hard-to-serve schools.

Under ProComp, hard-to-serve schools are defined as schools with a high percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, an indicator of poverty. The percentage varies by the type of school; for example, more than 92 percent of elementary school students must qualify for subsidized lunch for that school to be considered hard-to-serve.

Teachers who work in hard-to-serve schools already get a monthly bonus under ProComp. This one-time bonus will be in addition to that, Shamburg said.

The amount that each person will receive is yet to be determined. The agreement calls for splitting a pot of $1,377,000 — which is the amount of money usually distributed for the Exceeds Expectations incentive — among all teachers and staff members who qualify.

Shamburg said it was important to come to an agreement that delivered the bonuses to teachers as quickly as possible. “ProComp has become a significant part of their pay,” she said. “If they miss this, it’s like a pay reduction. They work really hard. They deserve to get their pay.”

Susana Cordova, DPS’s chief of schools and soon-to-be acting superintendent, agreed.

“Part of the reason we felt some urgency about getting to an agreement is because we value our teachers and want to make sure they know that,” she said.

The DPS school board is scheduled to vote to ratify the agreement on Thursday. Cordova said the district’s goal is to include these bonuses in teachers’ paychecks at the end of December.

The agreement also extends the overall ProComp contract between the district and the union until August 2016, and it extends the master agreement until August 2017 to allow the two sides more time to bargain. Shamburg said the union will be asking for several revisions with the goal of increasing Denver teachers’ salaries and providing more predictability about their pay.

Payday coming soon

Pension paybacks for Detroit district employees may show up in March  

Thousands of Detroit district school employees may reap the benefits of a lawsuit over pension funding as soon as March.

School employees who worked for Detroit’s main district between 2010 and 2011 can expect refund checks in their mailboxes soon, district leaders say, but making sure the money ends up in the right place will be difficult.

The reimbursements are the outcome of a controversial move during Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s administration to withhold additional money from employees’ paychecks to pay for retiree health care benefits.

The Michigan Supreme Court upheld a ruling by the state Court of Appeals that the withdrawals were unconstitutional. As a result, the state is giving back $550 million to school employees with interest. The amount employees get depends on what they were paid at the time, either 1.5 or 3 percent of their salary.

While every district in the state is charged with handling the refunds, the Detroit district has a larger burden, tasked with processing 13,416 refunds totaling $28.9 million.

Some of the employees no longer work for the district and do not have an updated address on file, the district said, so employees have been asked to update their information by Feb. 28.

Another challenge: The district is trying to fill five positions in the financial department, the area charged with issuing the checks.

Jeremy Vidito, the district’s chief financial officer, said the state did not allocate extra dollars for additional support staff to help with the task, so the department is working overtime to process the checks.

“It’s prioritizing,” he said. “So there are items that we are going to push back to make sure this happens. It’s also … asking people to do more with less.”

Despite the challenges, the district said it plans to begin mailing checks starting the third week of March.


heated discussion

Aurora budget talks devolve into charter school spat

Aurora Public Schools board of directors and Superintendent Rico Munn, center.

Aurora isn’t facing major budget cuts, and school board members don’t have any significant disagreements with their superintendent’s budget priorities, but that didn’t stop a school board meeting this week from turning into a heated back and forth. At issue: the impact of charter schools, how new board members got elected, and what that says about what the community wants.

Four of the seven school board members were elected in November as part of a union-supported slate, sometimes speaking against charter schools. Many have been wondering what changes the new board will bring for the fifth largest district in the state, and Tuesday’s discussion shined a light on some rising tensions about different priorities.

The budget discussion was the last agenda item for the school board. District staff and Superintendent Rico Munn intended for the school board to provide guidance on whether their proposed budget priorities were the right ones.

Union-backed members who were sworn in in November pressed the superintendent and staff to talk about how charter schools would impact the district’s long-term finances.

“What I’ve always said is that charter schools have a negative impact on our financial model,” Munn said.

Veteran board member Dan Jorgensen asked Munn to clarify his statement.

“I don’t say necessarily it’s negative to the district, I say it’s negative to our financial model,” Munn said. “I just think that’s a fact.”

Then the conversation turned to the community. Board member Monica Colbert, one of the longer-serving board members, said the district is changing whether or not the board agrees because the community is demanding something different. The community “came out in droves” asking for the DSST charter school, she said.

Board President Marques Ivey, who was elected in November, disagreed.

“Not (to) this group that was voted in, I guess,” Ivey said. “I have to look at it in that way as well.”

Jorgensen supported Colbert’s argument.

“I think often times our perspective is also skewed by who we engage with, of course,” Jorgensen said. “But we need to be mindful we are here to represent our whole community.”

He added that a small fraction of Aurora’s registered voters voted in the school board election, saying, “there’s no mandate here at this table.”

When Ivey tried to dispute the numbers, Jorgensen continued.

“It’s not a debate,” he said. “That’s not the point. No one sits here based on — I mean there’s a lot of factors that contributed, like half a million dollars behind us or this or that.”

November’s election included large spending from the union and from pro-reform groups. The union slate of board members raised less money on their individual campaigns, but had the most outside help from union spending, totaling more than $225,000.

“I’m not going to let you get away with that shot,” Ivey said, stopping Jorgensen.

Then another board member stepped in to change the subject and ask for a word change on Munn’s list of budget priorities.

The district isn’t expecting to make significant budget cuts this coming school year, but in order to pay for some new directives the school board would like to see, district staff must find places to shrink the budget to make room.

The proposed priorities include being able to attract and retain staff, addressing inequalities, and funding work around social, emotional and behavioral needs. More specifically, one of the changes the district is studying is whether they can afford to create a centralized language office to make it easier for families and staff to access translation and interpretation help. It was a change several parents and community members showed up to the meeting to ask for.

Board members did not have major objections to the superintendent’s proposed priorities.

During the self-evaluation period at the end of the meeting, board member Kevin Cox said things aren’t as bad as they look.

“We’re building cohesion despite what may seem like heated discussions,” Cox said.

Things could be worse, he added – he’s heard of other groups getting in fist fights.

Correction: A quote in this story was changed to remove an expletive after Chalkbeat reviewed a higher quality audio recording of the meeting.