Revising the once mutually lauded performance-based teacher payment model known as ProComp was at the heart of the three-day teachers strike in Denver that ended in time for classes Thursday morning.

The Denver Classroom Teachers Association and Denver Public Schools announced a tentative agreement early Thursday.

An amended version of ProComp has a retroactive effective date of Jan. 19 and runs through Aug. 31, 2022, updating a teacher salary schedule that starts at $45,800 a year. It also gives average raises of 11.7 percent next year and opens renegotiation of financial terms that could add $23.1 million to teacher compensation along with other benefits.

“This is a victory for Denver kids and their parents and our teachers,”
the union’s lead negotiator, Rob Gould, said after the last bargaining session. “Educators in Denver Public Schools now have a fair, predictable, transparent salary schedule. We’re happy to get back to work.”

Last weekend, the two sides tried unsuccessfully to negotiate an agreement. The strike that ensued Monday was Denver’s first in 25 years.

Denver Public Schools Superintendent Susana Cordova had noted “real progress” by Tuesday night.

The ProComp contract, which expired Jan. 18, paid Denver’s teachers based on performance and incentives, rather than seniority and education level, in addition to their base pay.

The school system offered bonuses to teachers based on factors such as working in schools with a high poverty rate in positions difficult to fill, or working in high-performing schools that are growing rapidly, among others. The goal was to increase teacher pay and attract top talent to challenging schools and subjects.

But as Denver’s school district has grown and the budget has stretched, the teachers union contended that bonuses siphoned off too much of their base pay. They wanted either to reduce or completely ax some bonuses, arguing that higher base pay would prevent teacher turnover, to the benefit of students.

Although the school district and the teachers union agreed to a starting base pay of $45,800 a year, school officials said they wouldn’t compromise on incentives for teachers who work in high-poverty areas or one of the district’s “high priority schools.”

“There was a recognition that we share many areas of agreement, and we worked hard to listen and find common ground on the few areas where we had different perspectives,” Cordova said Thursday morning.

Taxpayer funding of ProComp was expected to reach $33 million this year.

“If the district is proposing to reallocate resources to cover teacher salaries, that’s certainly better than asking local taxpayers to cover it,” said Jonathan Butcher, senior policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation. “Still, across-the-board increases do not reward the hardest-working educators. Districts should be looking for ways to cut administration and focus on classroom instruction.”

Thorny issues included “professional development units” for teachers, or PDUs, which are district-based teacher education courses offered at no cost.

While talks continued, Denver’s 71,000 students were taught by school administrators and substitute teachers.