Denver Public Schools has more than enough money to increase teachers’ pay to make it competitive with other neighboring school districts like Littleton, Aurora, Boulder and Cherry Creek.
In Lisa Flores’ recent op-ed ("Among the wealthiest states, some of the most poorly funded schools," Jan. 22), she repeats an expertly crafted and common narrative often heard from the pro-charter, anti-union DPS School Board members and DPS administrators.
This narrative is that DPS can’t pay teachers competitive salaries because of TABOR, the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, which limits tax increases based on inflation and population growth, and that money isn’t misspent on DPS' highly paid administrators. In effect, she says DPS wants to do better but their hands are tied.
These arguments are misleading and leave out important key facts.
In 2012 Denver voted to de-Bruce, in other words, be free from TABOR's taxing and spending limits. Since that time Denver voters have approved hundreds of millions in additional taxes and bonds, including a record $628 million in 2016 for Denver Public Schools.
The fact that DPS teachers still make $20,000-$30,000 less per year than their peers in other districts is, frankly outrageous. Neighboring school districts like Aurora, Littleton and Boulder can pay teachers well even with state education funding being constrained by TABOR. Why can’t DPS do it?
Also worth noting, in 2015 DPS then-Superintendent Tom Boasberg was able to persuade the state legislature to pass a bill, HB 15-1391, that allowed DPS to reduce the amount it pays into PERA, the retirement fund for teachers and state employees.
This reduction of 3.6 percent per employee per year amounted to a windfall to the district of more than $20 million per year, or a cumulative total of more than $80 million since 2015. This windfall, according to Boasberg, was earmarked for smaller class sizes and other amenities for schools.
In conversations with multiple teachers, none of them have seen class sizes reduced or any other evidence that the savings from HB 15-1391 was invested in schools.
What we do know based on a CORA request by activist Margaret Bobb is that DPS paid $3.3 million in bonuses to administrators last year. By comparison, Aurora’s school district paid $0 in bonuses to their administrators.
DPS teachers have been required to pay increased amounts into PERA and have also seen large increases in their health insurance premiums. The 10 percent pay increase offered by DPS that Ms. Flores mentions likely includes cost-of-living adjustments and still does not bring Denver teachers’ salaries in line with neighboring school districts. I believe Denver teachers should actually be asking for much more.
I urge you to write to Ms. Flores at Lisa_Flores@dpsk12.org and to Gov. Jared Polis to let them know you support Denver teachers in their efforts to receive fair pay.
The author was a candidate for Colorado state treasurer in 2018. He has over 25 years experience in business and finance and holds degrees in finance and economics.