All but one of Ogden's 697 teachers had returned their signed contracts Wednesday, meeting the deadline they were given to keep their jobs for the upcoming school year.
"That makes me very happy," said Brenda Ruffier, director of human resources for Ogden School District. "We really do not want to lose any of our people."
Doug Stephens, president of the Ogden Education Association, said teachers had little choice. Even though the school board refused to negotiate with OEA to craft the 2011-12 contract, the union advised its approximately 500 members to sign.
"It's exactly what I expected. These teachers love the kids, and they need their jobs," said Stephens, a history teacher at Ben Lomond High. "What kind of protest could we mount when they would fire us? Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. That's what I teach my students."
The 2010-11 school year ended without a negotiated contract in place between the OEA and Ogden district after a yearlong bargaining effort collapsed.
On June 30, the Board of Education sent a letter to teachers saying it would not negotiate the 2011-12 contract and teachers must sign and return the board's "common contract" before 4 p.m. on July 20 or their jobs would be advertised as open for hire. The board also has announced that, over the next six years, it plans to phase out raises based on experience, known as "steps," and replace them with raises based on performance.
About 800 people, including teachers from Ogden and around the state, gathered at a rally last week to protest the board's actions. Two thousand signed a petition calling on the board to restore collective bargaining.
But the board has held steadfast to its decision.
Although the Ogden board has said it plans to resume bargaining next year, many educators worry that what happened there could set a precedent for other districts to follow. And this week, legislative leaders announced they will study whether Utah should eliminate collective bargaining rights for all public employees. Sen. Howard Stephenson, a Draper Republican and chairman of the Education Interim Committee, has applauded the Ogden board's stand and sees performance-based pay and limits to collective bargaining as potential tools to improve education.
In Ogden, district leaders may need to repair relationships with teachers who are hurting from the board's ultimatum.
Mark Johnson, an English teacher at Ogden High, signed his contract but said he felt "disrespected" by the board's decision not to negotiate and worries trust has been damaged between teachers and their employer.
"It's like playing without any cheerleaders or anybody to cheer you on," Johnson said. "I want to focus on teaching. â¦ You're still playing the game, but there's nobody there to cheer for you or help you."
Ogden district responded this week to a list of nearly 100 questions OEA teachers submitted. One of the questions asked how the school board would address "very low" morale among teachers.
The emailed response was: "The board is aware that some teachers believe that morale is low. However, it appears that morale is an individual choice being that board members have heard that statement every year regardless of how negotiations have gone, whether steps were given or not, and when a cost-of-living increase (COLA) was given or not. The board has implemented many changes which have improved education for students and circumstances for employees."
Q&A: The contract dispute
Here are several questions submitted by the Ogden Education Association (OEA) about the contract dispute and answers from the Ogden School District.
Why won't the school board negotiate?
A • The board intends to continue in collective bargaining for the 2012-2013 school year. In 2009-2010, the board and OEA negotiated and mediated exhaustively to arrive at agreement. For 2010-2011, the board and OEA negotiated and mediated exhaustively. The board has not refused to negotiate; the board has refused to remain in a state of suspension and confusion.
How can you say you have been bargaining in good faith when you have obviously been working on this contract for a while?
A • The revisions to the contract began in June 2011.
Why does the school board believe that collective bargaining is not in the best interest of children?
A • The school board is planning on collective bargaining for the next academic year. Collective bargaining is one means of arriving at agreement on terms of employment and working conditions. Not everything that happens in collective bargaining is in the interests of children.
The contract day is increasing to eight hours a day. Fifty minutes added per day equals 150 hours more contract time (assuming a 180 day contract), so my pay increases 1.6 percent for a 11.7 percent increase in contract time. How can they increase our hours and call it a pay raise? I will be making $1.22 less per hour.
A • The pay increase applies to the total value of the year's contract to the teacher.