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DPS, teachers union credit mediator for bringing both sides together

After 15 months of negotiating and three days of a strike, the district and union reach a deal to raise teacher pay.

DENVER — After all the energy put into the strike and the angst spent at the bargaining table, both sides finally reached a deal to restructure the ProComp teacher pay system.

"There's a significant investment in our teachers in their base salaries while maintaining a real focus on equity, something that we are deeply committed to," Susana Cordova, Denver Public Schools Superintendent, said.

The tentative agreement raises a starting teacher's salary by seven percent while increasing the average base salary of all teachers by 11.7 percent, making DPS paychecks more in line with neighboring districts like Jefferson County and the Adams 12 Five Star School District.

During the negotiations, teachers pushed for more base pay and elimination of incentives. That sentiment worried Luke Ragland, president of Ready Colorado, an education reform group.

"The union's position was really strongly opposed to what the voters clearly said they wanted to do," Ragland said.

RELATED: Teachers union, Denver Public Schools reach agreement

In 2005, voters approved ProComp, which allowed a property tax increase to fund an incentive-based pay system for teachers. The teachers union wanted to get rid of those incentives, including extra pay for teachers who work at the 30 most at-risk schools.

"The teachers union wasn't budging," Ragland said. "They were unwilling to put additional money into those at-risk schools."

The Denver Classroom Teachers Association wanted that money to increase the base salary of teachers even more. Ragland says if the union got its way, his group would consider filing a lawsuit because he felt that deal would undermine the will of the voter. 

But, in the end, the tentative agreement kept those incentives while creating a simple and easy-to-understand pay structure. Ragland says the spirit of ProComp was protected.

"On the aggregate, I feel strongly that voter intent was met here, that both sides came to an agreement, that was in the best interest of students," Ragland said.

Negotiations started Wednesday night and continued until a deal was reached at 6:00 a.m Thursday morning. Both sides credit federal mediator, Kayla Mack, for getting both sides to reach an agreement. She kept both parties in separate rooms and engaged in "shuttle diplomacy" to work out details without interference from the crowd.

"Thanks to our mediator, Kayla Mack," Rob Gould, lead negotiator for the teachers union, said. "She did a wonderful job of continuing to push us, both sides to what was important to one another."

The teachers union still has to vote to ratify the agreement. The details of the vote have yet to be released.

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