Jefferson County School District – The Teacher Salary Debate

Our office is located outside of Denver, Colorado. The Jefferson County School District is in our backyard. Teacher sickouts and student protests recently made national news when one of the school board members proposed creating an advisory counsel to review curriculum in AP History classes.

9News - Stand Up for Students Rally

Parents, students, teachers, community members line Wadsworth Boulevard to voice displeasure with recently elected school board majority in Jefferson County.
(Photo: Andy Buck)

Those protests and frustration aimed at the majority board members is only a small part of tensions between the board and the teachers, students, parents and community it serves.

Salary Increases Based on Changing Criteria

The teachers are also unhappy with salary negations with the union. The board majority recently approved salary increases but changed the criteria for how teachers receive the raises. This was without listening to input from the teachers’ union, the teachers and administrators or anyone else.

The board majority of Ken Witt, Julie Williams, and John Newkirk even rejected the findings of an independent fact-finding report that recommended the teachers’ union and district work on a new evaluation system.

Witt said he wants to only reward highly effective teachers – “This is increased compensation. That’s what this discussion is about. It’s not about moving anyone back,” Witt said. “Our experienced teachers, their salary is what it is. We’re talking recognizing effective and highly effective teachers and increasing compensation for those teachers.”

However, the system that currently ranks teachers is unable to clearly evaluate teachers in the way Witt wants.

Jefferson County Education Association President John Ford has expressed concern over this plan.

“Having an evaluation system that does not accurately rate teachers does not help reach our goal of every student being taught by a quality teacher,” explained Ford.

The old step system awarded pay increases based on a scale of years of experience and education. The new criteria awards increases based on last school year’s performance evaluations.

Increases that don’t even restore the teachers’ salaries to where they were five years ago. Budget cuts slashed salaries by 3% in 2009/2010. Those salaries were partially restored, but teachers have not seen an increase since 2010/2011.

Even with this brand new increase, many teachers are still making less in 2014 than they did in 2009.

Changing Expectations for Raises 

Agree or disagree about teacher salaries based on experience or performance, changing HOW a teacher receives their increase without consulting or even informing them to criteria changes until after the fact is wrong.

What would happen in the business world if a company decided to base this year’s pay increases on last year’s performance when expectations were already set that raises would follow a different scale?Jefferson County School District Teacher Salary Disputes

What if your entire job performance and raise was based on one evaluation for 30 minutes of the entire year? Would that be a fair and accurate snapshot of your abilities?

That is primarily what the teachers are upset about. The way in which they are reviewed and base their income changed after the fact.

Teacher Evaluation Rubric 

The current teacher performance rating is not based on anything concrete. Yes, they have a rubric and yes they have an understanding of where they need to be, but the performance criteria is only based on “Highly Effective,” “Effective,” “Partially Effective,” and “Ineffective” rankings. In the past, this was set only as a guideline to help show teachers where they were at in their classroom.

How a principal or other administrator decides to rank that teacher on the rubric is very subjective. Clear definitions of what a highly effective teacher vs an effective teacher looks like do not exist.

The rubric is several pages long and contains a summary of what each performance level could be, but does not give clear directions for what each level actually looks like. How these definitions are interpreted is up to each individual administrator.

How and when teachers are evaluated also varies from school to school and from administrator to administrator. Some teachers are evaluated one time over the course of the entire school year, with the potential to not even receive the feedback until the end of the school year.

Other teachers are evaluated several times over the course of a year with short drop-ins and visits.

Many teachers also know when an administrator will be visiting their class, so they have time to prepare their best lesson for their evaluation.

In any of these scenarios, an administrator will have a difficult time getting a strong sense of what happens in that classroom every day, not just on evaluation day. They may miss teachers who are missing the mark or need additional support. The possibility of misinterpreting a great teacher for a satisfactory teacher is high depending on what’s happening in the classroom when they observe.

Administrators may also miss several of the rubric criteria, because they must grade that teacher in a very limited time frame.

The administrator may never actually see the real teacher in the day to day classroom to gain an accurate view of teaching abilities.

Keep in mind a principal doesn’t just do evaluations and doesn’t have one teacher to evaluate – one school may have 30 teachers or more. The principal and administration must run the school in addition to finding time to evaluate that many employees.

Are Teachers Afraid of Feedback? 

The review system is flawed and must be fixed before salaries are fully linked to performance evaluations. 

The teachers I’ve spoken with are not afraid or against pay being tied to performance. They just want a voice, an accurate rating system and an evaluation that encourages their growth as teachers, not a retroactive iron fist.

Great teachers want to be evaluated and given feedback so that they can improve their skills and abilities: they want to give their students the best education possible. 

If we as a community or society agree that it is important to base teacher pay on performance and not a pay scale, then we must –

1. Allow teachers and administrators to participate in defining the performance rubric and set up clear and defined criteria.

2. Give teachers and administrators the information on how pay will be decided BEFORE it is changed, not after the fact.

3. Give administrators quality time to evaluate their teachers, give them feedback in a timely manner and opportunity to improve where needed.

4. Most importantly – Stop portraying teachers as greedy, manipulative people. Teachers only want what everyone else wants – to be able to support their family with their career, make a difference and live a happy life.

Sure there are incompetent teachers, every profession has bad apples, but the majority of teachers are incredible human beings who dedicate their lives to teaching the young people of our community and preparing them for a successful life. Teachers give back a portion of their own salary to their classroom, work tireless hours, solve childhood dramas on a daily basis, offer emotional support, work in a germ factory, educate and stimulate young minds and so much more. It takes a very special person to become a teacher. Let’s give them the respect and honor they deserve.

What are your thoughts on teacher salaries? Should they be based on scale or performance or both?

What is the salary situation in your school district? How are increases determined?

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17 replies
  1. Brita Letvin
    Brita Letvin says:

    The information about teacher pay being restored after we took a 3% pay cut is inaccurate. We actually took two 3% pay cuts two years in a row. After the last mill and bond were passed we received 1% back for days that were designated as furlough days that we ended up working. We did not get back the other 5%.

    • Susan Wells
      Susan Wells says:

      Brita – thank you for the clarification. I understood that teachers did get the furlough day pay back which covered the 3%. No matter what the math is, Jeffco teachers are making less today (with the latest increase) than they did 5 years ago.

  2. Wendy McCord
    Wendy McCord says:

    Thank you for sharing this perspective. So many people have lost sight of the wonderful people teaching our children every day, because many of them hear nothing but negative comments from our Board majority. Our teachers do amazing things for our children. They deserve our support, respect and cooperation, not derision.

    The way the Board majority has treated teachers is an embarrassment to Jefferson County. They are true heroes in my book. Changing the rules after the fact is dishonest, and refusing to give teachers input into this process is despicable. Shame on the Board majority.

  3. TH
    TH says:

    It can be hard for those outside of education to understand what is going on in Jeffco. This article has such great comparisons and easy to understand arguments. Thank you!

  4. Missie
    Missie says:

    Thank you Steve Spangler! As a 25 year Jeffco educator, I appreciate your support and clear understanding of the evaluation system as it currently exists. Yes, it is a battle!
    I wonder how this will all pan out when our contact expires next August.
    Get ready for a mass exodus if the BOE majority doesn’t negotiate with us.

  5. Kate Anderson
    Kate Anderson says:

    THANK YOU, Steve Spangler, for so clearly and thoroughly laying out my personal perspective on one of many issues with the BOE majority. The disrespect they continue to show teachers is enormously inappropriate and completely uncalled for. If the issue was about money, teachers wouldn’t have agreed to pay freezes. If it was evaluation and feedback, you wouldn’t have made it through student teaching in the first place. They need to set aside their agenda and work with the good people they have in front of them, and LISTEN to the professionals that work for them.

    Thank you again, for the most concise and accurate explanation of the salary issue that I’ve seen.

  6. Tammie Peters
    Tammie Peters says:

    Thank you for this wonderful explanation of what we are dealing with. One other thing you might want to know: principals were told that last year’s evaluations were going to be used as a baseline to demonstrate teacher growth. Our administrators intentionally ranked teachers on the low side so that we could show growth during this year. It was only after-the-fact that these “practice” and “baseline” scores became tied to pay. While our principals were setting us up for success, the Board Majority turned that against us.

  7. Jill
    Jill says:

    I’m in Jeffco and I am disgusted at the current situation. ALL OF IT. It is absolutely sickening that these people can get away with this at the cost of our children.

    “The board majority of Ken Witt, Julie Williams, and John Newkirk even rejected the findings of an independent fact-finding report that recommended the teachers’ union and district work on a new evaluation system.”

    They will reject anything and everything that does not fall in line with their agenda no matter how many facts, opinions and walkouts there are. They will sit through as many four hour board meetings as they have to to appease the public’s cry to be heard, but they will ultimately vote how they intended to vote in the first place. I don’t understand how this can happen. And my goodness, our teachers have it hard enough… this is despicable. But I guess they have to pay their new well-paid Superintendent and their law firm somehow.

    • Susan Wells
      Susan Wells says:

      Jill – thank you for your comments! I agree. The board is there to serve everyone in Jefferson County, not their personal agendas. The fact that they dismiss all feedback and expert advice is very telling to their character.

  8. Jay Caviness
    Jay Caviness says:

    Hi Steve,

    Thank you for this. I used to be fairly anti-teachers union. Then, last summer, I started dating a high school math teacher. It was quite an eye opening experience to understand what really goes on. She does not work in Jeffco, but has many of the same issues. I cannot imagine working every day in herding cats, er,I mean classroom management. The most important thing I learned was that the argument that the union protects bad teachers is patently false. More often the union takes up the cause to rid the school of bad teachers, encouraging them to find a new profession. Even offering to support the administration in either terminating or not renewing a contract, but of more often then not rebuffed due to either a need to avoid the mess that is required to actually fire a teacher, or use it as leverage to publicly decry the union for protecting a bad teacher.

    I have a whole new respect for teachers, I hear both sides (my sister is an administrator, though formerly a biology teacher, in Arizona). Thank you for giving this a voice outside of politics.

    Jay Caviness

  9. J Most
    J Most says:

    “What if your entire job performance and raise was based on one evaluation for 30 minutes of the entire year? Would that be a fair and accurate snapshot of your abilities?” ARE you kidding me with this statement….THE ENTIRE PREMISE of “Reform Education” Today is judging children on single tests scores, not on the year as a whole but on single test scores! If that is good enough for the Millions of Children, dumbing them down to testing snapshots (that are not accurate at truly evaluating what the child knows) it should be a fair way to appraise everyone including Arne Duncan, Obama, Gates, Congress, NGA, CCSSO, teachers, … Forget the whole picture, you will get ONE TEST PASS OR FAIL. Like it or not you cannot pick apart the teachers distaste of this unless you garner a real disgust for how it is the new “reformed” 21st Century way of “meeting Standards” and how we are abusing our children in this way. Teach to the test, progress or degrees based on the scores. The whole testing mentality HAS TO GO, you cannot dislike one part without recognizing that it is all encompassing. Either we like and believe it is possible to be evaluated on such a small scope and accept it in all aspects of life or we understand that the big picture tells us so much more than a single eval or test and we fight like hell against PEARSON and GATES and all those profiting off the “Almighty TESTS”

    • Susan Wells
      Susan Wells says:

      J – Thank you for your comments. I agree that students shouldn’t be judged on a single test score either. It isn’t fair for anyone to have their overall performance judged so narrowly. This post focused on the teachers. The issues surrounding students and other targets in the district will be addressed on another day.

  10. Barbara Gal
    Barbara Gal says:

    One issue that often gets left out: The board’s plan for raises does not increase salaries. Instead it is a one time “bonus,” which is taxed on a higher rate and does not count towards salaries when figuring retirement benefits. And of course it can be taken away the next year.


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