Parsing the ProComp impasse

Putting together some of the numbers from different sources of information on this dispute shows a connection that, for me at least, better explains the divide between the DCTA and DPS.

20% of teachers who start at DPS leave in the first 5 years; 9% of teachers who have taught 5 years leave before year 11; and only 1% of teachers who teach for 11 years ever leave. If you make it 11 years, the chances are overwhelmingly high that you are in for the full 30 to qualify for the DPS (now PERA) pension.

The economic incentives for these different groups — teachers with less than 11 years of service, and teachers with 11 years of more of service — are strikingly different. The pension benefits to a teacher with less than 11 years of service are minimal. The pension benefits for the full 30 years of service are extraordinary: for a teacher who began their career at age 25 or less and teaches for 30 years, the Piton Foundation calculated the pension value at about $1.25 million (yes, million). As with most things financial in the public sector, there is a downside and many economists would argue it is partly the considerable value of the pension which limits salaries, most significantly to new and young teachers (with a significant pension obligation, there is less money left over to increase base pay, particularly when that base pay has a multiplier effect that further increases pensions).

A significant, and perhaps even the core issue dividing the two sides, is which ProComp dollars are paid as a one-time bonus (DPS preference), or as part of base salary (DCTA position). The difference financially is significant: the final three years of base salary is the critical factor that determines pension amount. If an incentive bonus becomes part of base salary, instead of being a one-time payment, the increase factors into both every remaining year of salary and the entire life of the pension. A ProComp payment into base salary essentially becomes an increase that is paid out annually over potentially the next 30+ years.

So if you are the DCTA, which group is your core constituency? Teachers who will leave before 11 years of service, or teachers who will stay for between 11 and 30 years? It is hard to represent both groups equally well, so whom do you choose? Who do you think is the more vocal group? Who has more members on committees and in the governance structure? Who has more influence?

DCTA, regardless of one’s opinion on their practices, are clearly smart (and historically very effective). As the Union negotiating team, would you fight hard for the interests of people who will be DCTA members for between 5 and 11 years and leave? Or for those who will be union members for 30 years?  No contest there, and it’s clear who the current DCTA proposal favors.

At some point, young, smart teachers – the exact type that DPS and every other school system need most to recruit – even if they are not going to teach  for 30 years, need to better understand that they are supporting a system in which their voice is muted and from which they receive disproportionately small rewards. Maybe they would continue to retain the current structure, but not many people knowingly act against their own self-interest. The DCTA sure does not, nor do the teachers with 11 years experience.

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