National group takes notice of Ogden contract situation
Published: July 8, 2011 12:20PM
Updated: July 8, 2011 12:26PM

The Washington D.C.-based Center for Union Facts sent out a news release today saying it "applauded the Ogden School District for pushing for the gradual introduction of merit pay in the school district, and questioned why the state's teachers unions were so scared by the idea of paying their members according to the quality of their work."

Sarah Longwell, communications director of the group, went on to say in the release "Merit pay is oen of the best ways to attract a higher class of candidates to the education profession." She also said, "Teachers unions always say they’re interested in helping children, but it’s hard to see how encouraging mediocrity in the classroom is good for our kids."

The group says it is not anti-union, but it also says in the first sentence of the "about us" section of its website, "Union officials have abused the trust of their members. They've misspent member dues and harmed the very same people they promise to protect."

The release followed news stories about the Ogden district sending letters to teachers last weekend informing them that it is not negotiating with the local teachers association for a collective 2011-12 contract. Teachers have been asked to sign and return an individual contract by July 20 or their jobs will be advertised as open for hire. The district also announced that over the next six years it aims to replace “steps,” the profession-wide standard of giving raises based on years of experience, with merit-based pay.

Ogden teachers feel that they were blindsided by the new terms, that they're not being respected, and though the union is no opposed to merit pay, teachers are nervous about agreeing to a performance pay plan that has not yet been designed. Some other Utah teachers are also worried about the precedent this might set for other districts, with Sen. Howard Stephenson, who chairs the Education Interim Committee, saying he hopes it does help lead to similar reforms.

"You've got a very tough teaching situation in Ogden schools, and these kids need teachers that will understand them, and those are the teachers that have been working with these kids," Utah Education Association President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh said Friday, referring to the district's high poverty rates and other challenges. "To tell these teachers thieir voice does not matter is not in the best interest of creating the best school environment for every kid."