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NEA News

Historic Pay Gains in Colorado

The lead negotiator for the local union shares his strategies for the bargaining process.
fair pay for educators
Published: October 27, 2023

The Westminster Education Association in Westminster, Colorado, negotiated the highest starting teacher salary in the state at almost $61,000. On top of that, the union also negotiated a generous package for Education Support Professionals (ESPs) with a starting hourly wage of more than $20.00 per hour, making Westminster ESPs among the highest paid in Colorado. 

If more districts around the country follow suit, it could stem the debilitating shortages of ESPs by allowing them to earn a living wage for their critical work. More than a third of all ESPs working full-time earn less than $25,000 per year, and 11.7% earn less than $15,000. On average, these educators make $2,361 less than they did 10 years ago, adjusted for inflation, according to NEA’s 2023 ESP Earnings report. 

NEA Today talked to lead negotiator and middle school math teacher Andy Hartman about his strategies at the bargaining table, which he has served on for the past 17 years.

Congratulations on your win for Westminster educators. What can other unions learn from your contract process, especially in raising the wage for ESPs? 

AH: We are a “wall-to-wall” union, so we bargain for all school staff -- teachers and ESPs. This year, we made a conscious decision to focus on ESPs, but it’s a multi-year process. It took us almost ten years to get to this win. Patience pays off.

How do you work on a years-long negotiating strategy for ESPs? 

AH: Some years you focus on raising the base salary, and others on the percent increase of overall salary. In some contract years, we raised the base by fifty cents an hour, others a dollar an hour, so that over the years, percentage increases will raise salaries dramatically. This academic year, our ESPs earn about $5.00 more an hour than other ESPs in the state.

How has that impacted ESP shortages? 

AH: We have a very competitive starting salary for ESPs so that attracts people. We still have some shortages, but they are less than other districts. ESPs want to work here because they know we are always working for the benefit of our ESPs.

Teachers in your district are now some of the highest paid in the state, but they also wanted to ensure ESPs got what they deserved in pay. Why is that?

westminster bargaining
Andy Hartman (far left) and the rest of the Westminster Education Association bargaining team.

AH: Most of our ESPs live in the district while our teachers do not. They recognize that ESPs are already the lifeblood of the school community in so many ways. They live here, they send their kids to our schools. But most importantly, we all know that schools do not function without ESPs. Students won’t get to the building, schools won’t be clean, nobody will be answering the phones without ESPs. 

We look at everything they do, and what they earn compared to teachers. Everyone agreed we needed to raise their salaries to make sure we are all on good footing. 

The district superintendent said that this was a good agreement for staff and students. How did you gain their support? 

AH: Through years and years of work. We’ve gone through furloughs and salary freezes, but we have steadily built that relationship. We have shown the district that raising salaries makes it easier to find qualified people to work in our schools. By attracting more people, the district has more choices. Now the district can say it has the highest salaries in much of the state, and they want to stay there. It’s a great place to be. 

What other tips can you share about how to achieve a big salary win? 

AH: Know the district’s finances. I spent hours digging into the finances to find out where they are spending money. We also looked carefully at the audit of the budget. If they say, we don’t have it in the budget, we know if that’s true because we have examined the audit. And the district knows that we know the true number because we have looked at the audit. From year to year, we know the district has one pot of money, and we now work with them to figure out how to spend that money.

NEA has more tips on salary negotiation. Learn more about collective bargaining.

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National Education Association

Great public schools for every student

The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.