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Denver's teachers could face a shake-up in their paychecks

A vote today may change the rules

DENVER -- Every year, Greg Ahrnsbrak decides whether to keep his job as a public school teacher or to look for a career that would pay him more money.

''I don't believe that all teachers, after year 13, hang up their books and say 'I'm not going to put forth any effort,' " said Ahrnsbrak, who has taught in the Denver public school system for more than a decade. ''Realistically, though, I don't care what profession it is, you still have bills to pay, families to support."

Today, voters will decide whether to approve a $25 million annual property tax increase that would dramatically overhaul how city teachers are paid.

Among other things, the plan would link teachers' salaries to student achievement, rather than years of service and education.

Teachers' unions have generally balked at pay-for-performance plans instead of raises and salary scales. The proposal here, however, was put together by the Denver teachers' union and administrators after a pilot program, and specialists say educators and policy-makers are watching.

Tricia Coulter, director of the Teaching Quality and Leadership Institute at the Education Commission of the States, said more attention is being paid to how teachers are remunerated. Coulter also said the Denver plan offers examples in both developing and implementing a program.

''The timing is perfect. Everyone is looking at these," Coulter said. ''It's definitely being watched very closely."

Supporters say the Professional Compensation System would help to attract and retain good teachers and improve student performance. Opponents say it would add subjectivity to how teachers are paid, and would do little to help the district's 73,000 students.

Marsha Burger, who teaches English at Abraham Lincoln High School, says ProComp might encourage teachers to think only of themselves and their paychecks.

Denver's 4,000 public school teachers are now eligible for 13 salary increases, based on years of service and development, such as degrees or certification.

Under ProComp, teachers who now make a base salary of $33,301 a year may double their salaries over a 25-year career.

Raises would be based on teacher knowledge and skills, the evaluation, market incentives, and student growth.

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