APS teacher contract, benefiting seasoned teachers most, up for ratification on Tuesday

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AURORA | Experienced teachers – not newcomers – would benefit most from a proposed teacher salary contract that school board members in Aurora Public Schools will consider next week.

In its negotiations with the district, the Aurora Education Association chose salary increases for teachers with more seniority instead of higher raises for all teachers. The decision would especially benefit about 60 percent of the district’s 2,300 teachers, according to the district.

“I think this proposed contract has done a lot for those teachers who have been loyal to this district,” said AEA president Bruce Wilcox.

School board members will vote on the proposed contract on Tuesday, which will pay teachers and keep schools running for the 2019-2020 school year. The district has recommended approval of the contract.

Every year, the months-long salary negotiations with APS are a top concern for teachers, who say relatively high housing costs can prevent generally modestly-paid teachers from putting down roots in schools and classrooms.

Both teachers and board members have said raising pay for beginning teachers is important in order to attract talented educators to the district.

APS teachers, however, fear that their peers, whether they are experienced in the classroom or fresh out of college, will leave for other school systems with better pay. APS has the lowest average salary of the major metro school districts, although not by much.

This year, the district presented the union with two options for boosting teacher pay.

Both options would have rewarded teachers for becoming more experienced in two ways: working in the district an additional year, or acquiring a new college degree in the last year.

The plans split, however, over how much of a pay raise all teachers would receive.

In a plan the union rejected, all teachers would have received an almost 4 percent salary hike next year.

The AEA instead chose a plan for all teachers to earn an approximate 2 percent salary raise. Most importantly, the approximately two-thirds of teachers who were working in the district several years ago will also recover a raise the district put off because of budget shortfalls.

That benefits teachers with at least four years of experience in the district.

The crux of the plan is getting committed teachers sums of money that they expected to receive years ago, he said. That, in turn, benefits students, Wilcox said.

“Obviously, a teacher who has worked in the building and worked with the community for a long time can judge the needs of  the school… with probably a broader perspective,” he said. “I certainly get better every year I’m in a classroom.”

It’s a choice that mirrors debates in other Denver metro school districts. Earlier this year, teachers in Denver Public Schools went on strike to demand higher pay for all teachers. They also aimed to overhaul the district’s system of paying bonuses for teachers with more education and experience or for working in struggling schools.

Wilcox said there was some discussion inside AEA about which option to choose, but he said union members voted overwhelmingly to support the plan up for adoption next week.

Wilcox did not say whether he thought the plan would help retain experienced staff in particular. He said there are many factors that determine whether a teacher would stay or go.

The proposed contract, however, comes on the heels of a 3 percent salary raise that began in January for all teachers. A local voter-approved tax increase from last fall funded that raise.

The district originally planned to revise the teacher salary schedule with the AEA by the end of June. That system determines pay by experience and academic credentials. Both parties say working to reform the scale is a gargantuan task and agreed to hold negotiations in the fall before a January 2020 deadline.

Wilcox said he is optimistic that those rounds of negotiations will be fruitful for not only teachers, but also manageable for a district that is expecting funding decreases because of declining enrollment.