Behind the Headlines: Donna Howell: What happened, what's next for KSBP?

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Q. Voters approved a couple of years ago a $773,000 tax increase to help pay teacher salaries as needed for the Knowledge and Skills Based Pay system. What happened to those funds and why aren't they sufficient to fully fund KSBP?

A. Two years ago, a salary survey of comparable school districts determined that the district lagged behind in teacher salaries and some support salaries. To attract and retain the best and the brightest staff, the board asked voters to approve $773,000 for a cost-of-living increase. The same year, the entire $773,000 was added to the available resources for salary increases. The salary increase for employees that year was an average 14.39 percent, which brought staff salaries to a competitive level with comparable school districts. Increases in salaries are reoccurring costs; so the $773,000 has been used for salaries in every year since its inception and therefore is not available to offset the projected increase cost of the KSBP plan.

The original financial projections for KSBP were based on the premise that only 5 percent of the staff would reach the top levels of the KSBP salary schedule. The revenue projections were based on the existing economic situation and were determined to be sufficient to cover the cost.

An updated comprehensive analysis was completed this year. The revenue projections were updated based on the current economic environment. An analysis of staffing and salary patterns in the district also was completed. The results of the analysis indicated that implementation of the plan, as it has developed, would require about $600,000 each year for the next 10 years. The analysis determined a significantly higher percentage of the staff than was originally projected would reach the top levels in the KSBP salary schedule. To ensure that the increased cost would not be more than the projected $600,000, the percentage of staff moving to the top of the KSBP salary schedule each year would have to equal the number of staff leaving the school system that were on the top of the salary schedule.

Q. What aspects of KSBP are still usable for the district?

A. The teaching standards and accompanying performance levels are research-based and can serve as effective guides for teachers as they plan for instruction and for principals as they evaluate instruction. The observation form is an effective tool for principals to use as they observe and document instruction in the classroom, and to provide meaningful feedback to teachers. Some parts of the portfolio, specifically teacher reflections can become a formal process for teachers to think about and analyze the instructional strategies they use and modify to support the learning of all of their students. The reflections also can serve as the basis for thoughtful discussions between teachers and principals.

The base pay and the variable pay components of the KSBP system can be used as a basis of comparison to alternative compensation systems that have been implemented in other districts.

Q. Is it reasonable to expect or ask teachers to undergo a "rigorous" evaluation that's isn't completely salary-based, as KSBP's evaluation was designed to be?

A. Teachers have expressed a need for an evaluation system that provides them with meaningful feedback regarding their teaching. The components of KSBP that are still usable have received favorable feedback from the teachers who participated in both pilots. The standards and performance levels, and observation tool are perceived to be improvements over our current evaluation system. The principals have used the KSBP observation tool with many teachers who were not participating in the pilots this year. The response from the principals and teachers has been very positive.

Q. How would a pay plan such as the salary add-on system approved recently in Denver differ from how KSBP was designed?

A. There are two main sources of compensation in KSBP, base pay and variable pay.

Base pay is determined by the salary schedule. The salary schedule includes five career levels. Advancement through the salary schedule involves some traditional steps within career levels in which teachers receive salary increases for experience, additional training and cost-of-living adjustments. Movement to a higher career level is determined by teacher performance, which is measured by the teacher's portfolio and classroom instruction.

Under KSBP, the base pay component provided the opportunity for accelerated progression through the salary schedule by allowing individuals to skip steps if their performance is of a high enough quality. This could have allowed teachers to reach the top levels of the salary schedule in approximately half the number of years required to reach the top levels under our previous salary schedule.

Under KSBP, variable pay took the form of a Pay for Performance System, which was financially supported by the Education Fund Board. The Pay for Performance System was based on schools achieving board- and school-set goals. When goals were met, the entire staff received the performance pay. That system was suspended after the 2003-04 school year because agreement could not be reached regarding the addition of a component that would reward individual teachers for increased student performance.

The Denver Public Schools Plan includes the following components: Pay raises are based on a percentage of the starting salary for new teachers. Working with their principals, teachers determine annual goals for their students' academic growth. Teachers who meet their goals receive a 1 percent raise, while teachers who exceed their goals receive a 3 percent raise. Teachers who work in schools with the greatest academic need, as well as teachers and specialists who fill positions in hard-to-staff schools, earn raises of 3 percent in addition to the other raises. Teachers who complete an advanced degree in a subject they teach receive an additional 2 percent raise and teachers who earn national board certification receive additional raises of 9 percent.

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