Lawmakers, groups choosing sides in Ogden education debate
What began as a local issue over teacher contracts and merit pay in Ogden has lawmakers and groups in Utah and elsewhere taking sides.
Meanwhile, the Ogden Education Association (OEA) plans to meet with teachers Monday to answer questions and discuss the school district's decision to bypass collective negotiations and pursue individual contacts with teachers, said Doug Stephens, OEA president.
Teachers union leaders are still exploring options, including possible legal avenues, as they prepare to rally Thursday. Stephens has advised teachers to sign with the district, saying they have little choice, but has asked them to hold off until Thursday.
"There's a lot at stake," Stephens said. "Our main focus of the rally is to inform the citizens of Ogden that this is not the way to run a school district."
The long-brewing conflict over teacher contracts in Ogden came to a head last weekend when the district sent notices to teachers telling them that it is not negotiating with the OEA for a collective 2011-12 contract, after failing to reach agreement on a contract last school year. Teachers were told to sign and return an individual contract by July 20 or their jobs would 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.
Brad Smith, an Ogden School Board member, has explained that board members believe the switch will benefit children in the high-poverty district. The teachers union is not opposed to the idea of merit pay, but Ogden teachers say they are wary of agreeing to a system that has not yet been designed and they feel their voices aren't being heard.
The Utah House Democratic Caucus announced Friday that it rejects the Ogden School Board's decision to skip 2011-12 contract negotiations.
"I think it's really important for the teachers to know that they have support within the Legislature, that many of us, that our caucus of Democrats feel the way they're being treated is not right and this speaks to the heart of education, how we treat our teachers and ultimately how we treat our students," said House Minority Leader David Litvack, D-Salt Lake City.
He said it's unfair to ask the union to sign off on a merit pay system without knowing details of how it might work, and said teachers should be involved.
The announcement followed comments from Draper Sen. Howard Stephenson, chairman of the Education Interim Committee, and some other Republican lawmakers who said they support the district's move toward merit pay.
The Sutherland Institute, a conservative think tank, also praised the district on Friday for taking steps toward performance-based pay. And a Washington D.C.-based organization, The Center for Union Facts, which calls itself a "union watchdog" and is critical of teachers unions, also applauded the district for moving toward merit pay and questioned the union's opposition. â
Ogden teacher rally planned
P The Ogden Education Association plans to hold a rally to discuss changes planned for teachers in the district at 10 a.m. Thursday at Ogden's Liberty Park.