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What Will High-Paying Boulder Valley Get for Boosting New Teacher Salaries?

What if I told you the Colorado school district with the second-highest average teacher salaries just dramatically increased compensation for new hires and is still figuring out how to pay for it?

A few days ago the Boulder Daily Camera reported that the Boulder Valley School District agreed to boost starting teacher salaries to one of the state’s highest, increased by 17 percent from $34,192 to $40,000 (H/T Complete Colorado). As the article explains, that figure is for teachers who hold a bachelors degree.

Such an across-the-board pay increase certainly represents a nice gesture from the district. For teachers with extra credentials, it gets even higher:

For Boulder Valley, the major changes are the $40,000 starting salary and incentives to earn advanced degrees. A master’s degree, for example, would bump a starting teacher’s salary up to about $51,000.

That’s an even bigger jump from the current starting MA salary of $36,927. The question for BVSD officials is what will they get for their money?

Well, for one thing, giving such handsome incentives for additional academic credentials cuts wholly against the grain of unanimous research on the ineffectiveness of the “master’s bump” policy. The fiscal impact is particularly large in a school district where 2 of every 3 teachers currently has a master’s degree. Are there any guidelines on what kind of advanced degree an instructor needs to earn the pay premium?

But the salary increase raises another key question, this one addressed in the Daily Camera story. Namely, how will they pay for it? Well, you probably wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Boulder has a better chance balancing the checkbook because their local voters have agreed to dish out much more in taxes:

But the district still needs to cut about $6 million from its 2012-13 budget. The district is reducing that amount by using part of its $4.2 million year-end cash balance, but it is moving forward with a controversial proposal to stop providing additional teaching staff at schools with the most low-income students.

Maybe BVSD officials made the calculation that the big bump for new teacher salaries won’t have a huge impact since their workforce tends to be weighted toward veteran instructors. I honestly don’t know. But remember how this post began? The punchline is that, according to Colorado Department of Education data, Boulder Valley teachers as a whole are the second highest paid in the state with an average annual salary (not including fringe benefits) of $58,734.

As much good will as BVSD leaders are willing to show, it’s clear they are very comfortable to spend even more money to get more of the status quo. My Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow’s op-ed on this subject may be nearly five years old (almost as old as I am!), but they still could use an honest education in “professional pay”. (The good news from Boulder Valley is that at least they didn’t have to endure a “sick-out” this time to get the result.)

As Colorado school districts go, BVSD’s results are pretty good. The same can be said for Douglas County. But Dougco, the state’s third-largest district, is providing a tremendous contrast in its approach to transforming teacher professionalism. The long-term results could be very interesting to watch.