Ogden teachers rally over lack of contract
Ogden School District teachers, who have worked all year without a contract agreement, staged a rally Thursday and accused district leaders of not negotiating in good faith.
Ogden is the only Utah district where educators and leaders haven't yet reached a wage and benefit agreement for this school year, according to the Utah Education Association (UEA).
"We've gone a year without a contract, which is a concern," said Doug Stephens, president of the Ogden Education Association (OEA). "We just don't feel like our district has been willing to negotiate in good faith."
Donna Corby, district spokeswoman, said Thursday the district has been negotiating in good faith and wants to see negotiations continue.
"We love our teachers, but we're still in difficult economic times," said Don Belnap, Ogden district board president. "In the last few years, we've received less money and made some tough decisions, and we're weathering the storm."
The teachers, who have been laboring under agreements made in the previous contract, rallied outside the district office Thursday afternoon. They had wanted the district to finish negotiations by adopting all of the recommendations made by a hearing officer, appointed after the two sides disagreed over financial issues. But the district has so far agreed to only some.
Under the recommendations it did adopt, the district has agreed to replace step increases scheduled raises based on years of experience with payments of $920. The district also agreed to pay educators for an additional day of professional development in August, though the hearing officer recommended that happen this school year, not next. The district will use its EduJobs money,which is federal money meant to support education jobs.
The association, however, wanted the district to adopt the other recommendations as well, including that the district make a statement that it values steps and will restore them once state funding returns to a certain level and that it pay teachers for an additional half-day of work done outside of class time next school year.
Stephens said the OEA isn't happy with all of the hearing officer's recommendations but wants the matter settled.The OEA has about 500 members.
Belnap, however, said the district is still contemplating some items and is not yet ready to finish negotiations. He declined to elaborate, saying negotiations are ongoing.
Stephens said he applauds the district for agreeing to the $920 payments and additional training day but wishes they had come sooner. He said the past couple of years have been tough on Ogden teachers. Ogden educators haven't had step increases in two years, making it difficult for the district which serves many students from low-income families to keep teachers, especially young ones, who make less anyway, he said.
"In a district like Ogden, where we have the toughest demographics in the state, we need to retain and recruit the best teachers possible, and freezing steps has really caused a lot of low morale and problems with our younger teachers," Stephens said.
Sara Byrd, a science teacher at Highland Junior High, said the lack of step increases over the past two years has meant some newer teachers are still getting paid like it's their first year. She said she knows newer teachers who rely on federal assistance to feed their families.
"I want to stay because I love the kids, but the district is making it really tempting for me to look elsewhere," Byrd said.
UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh, who spoke at Thursday's rally, said in an interview that the situation in Ogden is not contributing to the greater good for kids.
"It's absolutely critical that we work together in good faith to make a difference," she said.
Belnap, however, said in an interview that the district has managed, despite tough economic times, not to raise taxes, shorten the school year, let employees go, reduce programs or increase class sizes.
"Where other districts have had to make some of those tough decisions, we've chosen not to do that," Belnap said. "We feel that's what's good for our kids."
Thursday was the last day of school for Ogden's students, and Friday is the last day for its teachers.