APS approves teacher raises, stipends amid statewide economic woes

A virtual meeting of the Aurora Public Schools board JUne 23, 2020

AURORA | Among a dire statewide economic crisis and budget cuts created by the pandemic crisis, historic teacher salary boosts and a stipend program for high-turnover positions are now a reality in Aurora Public Schools. 

The APS Board of Education unanimously gave a sweeping teacher pay plan its final seal of approval Tuesday night as part of finalizing this year’s contract negotiations between the Aurora Education Association teacher union and the district. 

The pandemic cut short those negotiations, and revenue shortfalls brought on by recession conditions pulled about $25 million in state funding from the district budget, The Sentinel reported last week. 

Even so, the school board signed off on a plan to put an additional, approximate $10 million every year into teacher pockets. The plan involves directly raising salaries and sending annual stipend checks to teachers and specialized employees in “hard-to-staff” positions. District officials have said they already budgeted the money into next year’s financial plan, thanks to a 2018 mill levy override voters approved in part to give teachers raises. 

From that pot of money, APS will now invest about $7 million into teacher salaries each year for the foreseeable future. 

It’s a big win for the teacher union, whose members have long decried low teacher pay amid surging housing costs pushing teachers from a life in Aurora and the Denver metro. All 2,400 of employees defined as teachers — mental health staff, service providers and classroom teachers — are included in the new salary schedule. 

APS had the highest teacher turnover rate of the major Denver metro school districts last year, according to state Department of Education data. Newer teachers in APS have been most likely to leave the district for other jobs.

But new teachers will benefit most from the new salary schedule. It’s a common teacher pay system that rewards teachers both for working longer in district schools and for acquiring new academic credentials, such as a master’s degree. 

Under the new salary schedule, a fifth-year teacher with a master’s degree, for example, will earn about $3,400 more annually. 

Young and moderately-experienced teachers will now earn more than other metro-area school districts, including nearby Cherry Creek schools, for a few years.

The proposal is not without its controversy, however. 

The plan also devotes up to $3 million annually for big stipends for staff occupying positions plagued by high turnover — a program the AEA opposed last year. Other teacher unions have soured on the concept of paying bonuses to some teachers instead of raising wages for all school staff. 

About 500 district employees will see $5,000 in stipends each year for filling middle school and high school science and math positions, which have seen teacher shortages. Mental health, social workers and speech language pathologists are also eligible for the funds.

The effectiveness of the plan will be evaluated after three years. 

See the new salary schedule in its entirety here.