Volume 3 Issue 1

Attracting and Retaining Great Teachers: Jeffco Teachers See Larger Checks

By Cindy Johnson

Last November, more than 5,300 Jeffco licensed staff members finally received larger paychecks for the first time in recent years. To keep funding decreases out of classrooms, Jeffco staff took a 3 percent pay reduction in the 2011–12 school year.  

Previous school boards allocated additional funds to employee retirement accounts over the past three years (plus  a 1 percent increase in 2012–13 and another 2 percent in 2013–14 to make up for the prior 3 percent reduction), but Jeffco staff members did not see any take-home increase during that time. 

With the approval of the current school board’s plan, 5,200 Jeffco teachers and other licensed professionals have received ongoing raises that vary in size from 2.4  to 13 percent. Teachers new to Jeffco received the largest raises, as the salary floor was increased to $38,000. 

Teachers who work in the 20 schools participating in the federal Teacher Incentive Fund program had their salaries raised to at least $40,000 in 2010 at the start of the program. Raising salaries for the rest of Jeffco’s new teachers will help ensure that Jeffco is a competitive and attractive district for those looking to start a teaching career. 

Raises for all other teachers were dependent upon the evaluation rating they received the previous year. Those evaluations were based on classroom practices, but not student achievement measures or test scores. The evaluations were conducted using a rubric jointly developed by the district and the Jefferson County Educators Association (JCEA) in 2008. Teachers rated ”Effective” received a 2.4 percent permanent raise, while “Highly Effective” teacher raises exceeded 4 percent.

Breaking with the tradition of not giving raises to teachers on the highest end of the salary scale, this year the board gave one-time raises to 118 teachers who otherwise would not have received increases under the traditional “step” scenario. Those stipends total over $190,000. 

While teachers are often quoted as saying they don’t go into the profession to make money, we certainly know that salaries must be competitive in order to attract and retain great teachers. As college students graduate with more debt, they are becoming more sensitive to choosing professions that allow them to repay their student loans. 

According to a study by Michigan State University, the average starting salary for college graduates with a bachelor’s degree across the country is $39,045. The National Education Association (NEA) reports that the average starting teacher salary across the US is $36,141, while Colorado’s average starting teacher salary is $32,126.   Raising the entry level salary from $33,616 to $38,000 does make Jeffco more competitive for graduates with teaching degrees. 

However, attracting graduates with majors in fields other than education may be more difficult. Graduates of UCD’s business administration program have average starting salaries of $43,518, while graduates from the School of Mines receive around $56,671 on average. 

According to the last JCEA contract pay schedule, a teacher with a bachelor’s degree would need to complete 19 years in the classroom before topping $43,000. Without further education credits, they also  would have retired never having made over $50,000. Even upon getting a master’s degree, a teacher would have had to work 10 years before making what the average Mines graduate made in their first year. 

Changing teacher compensation to correlate with achievement means that every effective teacher is eligible for a salary increase.  According to the previous JCEA Salary Schedule, a “Level 1” teacher would work for more than a decade (from their 7th year until their 19th year) without any increase; a “Level 2” teacher would work 8 years (from their 10th year until the 19th) at the same pay level. 

The new approach to teacher compensation provides graduates and career-changers considering teaching as a profession a level of confidence that they will get compensation increases commensurate with other professions.   

The New Teacher Project reports that first-year teacher performance is more indicative of long-term effectiveness than academic credentials or typical pathways into the profession. This fact makes it imperative that Jeffco attract the highest quality candidates possible and provide the support needed for new teachers. According to studies conducted by McKinsey, what matters most to  successful school systems is getting the right people into teaching, developing them as effective teachers, and ensuring that all learners are supported.

The current JCEA contract contains a provision which limits the amount of experience allocated to teachers who transfer into Jeffco, which in turn limits their initial Jeffco earnings. Teachers coming from other districts get only seven years of experience (10, if they are going to fill a hard-to-recruit-for position). 

If a Denver teacher with 16 years of experience wanted to teach in Jeffco, they could only earn what a seven-year teacher was scheduled to earn. In addition, the contract has no provisions for recognizing relevant experience in other professions, making it financially difficult for those who may be changing careers to become a Jeffco teacher. 

Jeffco must have a thoughtful and competitive compensation system to attract and retain great teachers, it is the most critical factor for improving student success in Jeffco.