Far more Denver teachers returned to the classroom this fall than in previous years, a retention boost that district officials attribute to pay increases won after a teacher strike last year.
But because veteran teachers tend to make more money than new hires, the higher retention means the district is paying more in teacher salaries than it budgeted for this year.
Whereas the district originally projected teachers would get an average 11.7% raise this year, the average raise for returning teachers was actually 15.7%, according to Denver Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Jim Carpenter.
The district also underestimated the cost of salary increases teachers could earn for completing training courses. A new contract with the teachers union allows teachers to cash in completed courses for pay raises.
The difference between what the district budgeted for teacher pay this year and what it’s spending is about $11 million, Carpenter said. The Denver school board will be asked later this month to amend the district’s $1.1 billion budget to reflect the higher sum.
The $11 million, which is about 1% of the district’s total budget, will come out of reserves, Carpenter said.
Carpenter called the increased teacher retention “a wonderful problem to have.” In each of the past four years, between 900 and 1,000 of the teachers, nurses, counselors, and other educators covered by the Denver Classroom Teachers Association contract left the district at the end of the year.
At the end of 2018-19, only 634 educators left — a 33% decrease in turnover.
More than 5,600 Denver educators are covered by the union contract.
Improving teacher retention was among the union’s biggest priorities and a main motivation for the teachers who went on strike for three days last February.
While the average pay raise for returning teachers was 15.7%, more than 1,000 educators got raises of at least 20%, and 18 educators saw their pay increase by a whopping 40% or more.
The average returning teacher salary this year is $66,238, up from $57,258 last year.
School board members on Thursday cheered the news about increased teacher retention. But board member Tay Anderson, who was an active union supporter during the strike, raised concerns about the district’s hourly wage workers. Until recently, Anderson worked in an hourly wage position as a restorative justice coordinator at Denver’s North High School.
“I want to see us actually making sure we have equity for our hourly workers,” he said. “Because for somebody who is cleaning our schools to make $15 an hour is not a livable wage.”
And the district isn’t even at $15 yet. The current minimum wage for district employees is $12.85, Carpenter said. The school board voted last year to raise the minimum wage for district employees to $15 an hour by 2023, a timetable the recently elected Anderson thinks is too slow.
Getting to $15 an hour will cost about $9 million, district officials said at the time. The district set aside more than $3 million in this year’s budget toward that goal.