A long-awaited overhaul of Douglas County Schools’ compensation for teachers is on the way to becoming reality. District leaders still caution the plan is a starting point and more work remains to make DCSD as competitive a hiring force as it aspires to be.
DCSD’s approach to compensation has fluctuated significantly in the past decade, starting with a controversial shift to market-based pay in 2012 and later a pay-for-performance system. Those events were followed by a 2018 bond and mill levy override, which provided about $16.9 million in pay adjustments.
But then came the pandemic. COVID-19 spurred pay freezes and furloughs, and delayed efforts to implement a new compensation system. The work got up and running again in September.
Chief human resources officer Amanda Thompson said a new system presented Dec. 14 “will rectify pay gaps” and be “much more competitive” than the district’s compensation has been in recent years.
Yet to work out is how to make sure DCSD achieves consistent funding for its compensation package — which is far more than base pay, Thompson emphasized — and that it gets can achieve competitiveness for years to come.
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School Board President Mike Peterson called the system simple, predictable, transparent and competitive. The “elephant in the room,” he said, was that staff don’t believe the district can fund the system beyond the 2023-24 school year.
“To me, that indicates we need to run (a mill levy override),” he said.
The district is still assessing how it can improve compensation for non-licensed employees, but district staff laid out a bolstered approach to licensed employee compensation. That affects nearly 3,500 employees, including teachers.
Expected to be in place by the 2022-23 school year, the school board would formally adopt the new compensation system when it approves the 2022 budget in June.
The system will cost $24 million to implement next school year, and $33 million the second year.
Funding would come from on-going dollars, like the state school finance act and per-pupil funding, as well as one-time reserves, director of budget Colleen Doan said.
Without a mill levy override, the plan “would not be able to be sustained” past year three, she said. Doan compared the district’s current mill levy override to several metro area districts, saying “we have the lowest mill levy override per pupil of our peers.”
The three new salary schedules — a general licensed employee schedule, a hard-to-hire schedule and a specialist or extremely hard-to-hire schedule — feature the same step-and-lane structure.
Overall, salaries would range from $43,680 to $114,999. Employees would receive a roughly 2% increase when they advance another “step” on the schedule except for in steps five through 10, when the district sees higher turnover. Those steps come with a slightly larger pay increase.
The plan would recognize seven years of experience outside of DCSD when hiring a new employee, while most neighboring districts recognize five, chief financial officer Kate Kotaska said. The district also added more steps to certain lanes than its competitors offer, to gain a hiring edge there.
The goal is to transition licensed employees to the new system starting next school year, rather than taking a phased approach.
The district would give raises to employees who are being paid less than what the new system dictates. Employees being paid more than what they should be on the new system would receive a salary freeze and annual cost of living adjustment until they are back in sync.
Among licensed employees who fall on the general schedule, about 69% are being paid less than what the new system requires and would receive base pay increases.
“The range though as you can imagine is quite drastic,” Kotaska said, explaining some people could receive an increase around $10 annually.
“In another case we have some employees who could be receiving an increase of nearly $27,000. What I would say to that is one, I’m sorry,” she said.
The average increase would be about $4,000. About 31% of people who will be moved to the new general schedule are being paid more than what it dictates. Some are being paid more than the new salaries by $8, while others are making $32,000 more, although it is on average closer to $7,200.
Staff walked through how the new DCSD compensation system compares to some neighboring districts, although they do not all have three schedules like DCSD does.
An employee with a bachelor’s degree at Step 1 on DCSD’s new general schedule would make $43,680. A hard-to-hire employee would make $48,160 and a specialist $53,760.
Denver Public Schools pays $47,291, Jeffco Public Schools pays $43,724, Cherry Creek School District pays $42,844 and Littleton Public Schools pays $41,683.
“That is a celebration,” Kotaska said.
The district would continue to lag competitors in its compensation for some mid-career educators. An employee on DCSD’s general schedule who sits at Step 10 with a master’s degree would make $59,311. A hard-to-hire employee would make $65,394, while a specialist would make $72,998.
Denver Public Schools pays $72,998, Cherry Creek School District pays $70,319 Jeffco Public Schools pays $67,018, and Littleton Public Schools pays $63,291.
Directors Becky Myers and Kaylee Winegar praised staff for a detailed presentation, with Winegar saying she thinks the system is an improvement.
Director David Ray asked if staff could look again at how compensation can help improve employee work conditions, naming harassment protection and bereavement as some examples.
His hope is that employees are “sticking around because we treat them well,” and not only because pay is competitive, he said. Ray further worried freezing some employee salaries could send them a negative message, particularly if their pay is still less competitive than neighboring districts.
“This kind of favors entry-level, if you will,” Ray said.
Both Ray and Peterson asked if the district had solicited sufficient teacher input, and Director Susan Meek said the district should take on a broad engagement campaign to gather reaction, including talking to the local union, the Douglas County Federation
Kevin DiPasquale is president of the Douglas County Federation, which does not have a collective bargaining agreement with the district, and said the organization was not consulted in forming the new compensation system.
“The new system will not make us as competitive as we should be,” he said. “It will make a dent, in sending a message that it’s trying to keep people, to be transparent and accountable to its staff and the community.”
He’s grateful it acknowledges room for improvement, he said, and called the plan “a good first step.” He is still concerned to see it involves freezing pay for employees being paid more than what the new system stipulates.
He suggested analyzing not just neighboring or competing district pay but also pay in the private sector and business community, which could attract educators out of schools.
“What Douglas County Schools used to have was a culture that people were willing to forego being the best paid in the metro area for being very well cared for, being treated as professionals,” he said. “That’s an area of growth that we are still working on.”
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