Ogden • Tasked with picking a new superintendent on short notice, the Ogden Board of Education picked one of its own to be the next chief.
Brad Smith, a member of the board since 2007, starts as superintendent on Sept. 7, when he will resign his spot on the board. Smith, an attorney, sat out a closed session Monday during which the board discussed his selection. He also abstained from voting for himself for the job. He was the only candidate; the board did not solicit applications.
"It's a big surprise," Ben Lomond High School Principal Ben Smith said after Brad Smith's appointment was announced. "We certainly will rally around him. He's not going into it blind. He knows the situation we're in."
The Ogden school board grabbed headlines this summer after it refused to negotiate a 2011-12 contract for teachers with the Ogden Education Association (OEA). And citing challenges with boosting student achievement, the board announced that, over the next six years, it will phase out the industry-wide tradition of paying teachers based on experience and move toward a performance-based pay system.
Teachers protested the board's refusal to negotiate. But faced with 20 days to sign the board's contract or lose their jobs, all but one of the district's 697 teachers signed.
"Our relationship with our professional organization has frayed a little bit over the past six or eight months," Brad Smith acknowledged in an interview. "I'm very focused on healing and mending those frays. Does that mean everybody has to agree? No. Does that mean everybody needs to communicate? Absolutely."
Smith, who has a two-year contract as superintendent and plans to practice law again in the future, said he already has scheduled meetings with OEA representatives this week. Rick Palmer, director of the Ogden-Weber Uniserv, which serves the OEA, said he's optimistic about Smith's leadership.
"Our biggest hope is that we could come back to the negotiations table and that we could get the kind of language back in the contract that recognizes the OEA as the bargaining agent," Palmer said. "That's all we've ever been asking for."
He noted that Smith's selection was "very surprising." Typically, school boards form a search committee with employees and community members and advertise for a superintendent nationally.
But Smith said the board did not want to appoint an interim superintendent and conduct a lengthy search.
"The term 'interim' is synonymous with lame duck. You're effectively shackling them to an inability to perform in many respects," he said. "We have to move forward aggressively, positively, proactively. But we have to move forward most importantly now."
Superintendent Noel Zabriskie announced on Wednesday, the first day of school, that he would be stepping down on Sept. 6 due to family reasons. His wife of 41 years, ReNon, was dying of cancer and needed constant care, board member Steven Marker said in an interview. She died sooner than expected, two days later.
Board President Don Belnap said he asked Noel Zabriskie several times since Friday whether he would like to stay on as superintendent, but Zabriskie declined.
In a letter from the superintendent that Belnap read aloud on Monday, Zabriskie stated, "Only with her love and support have I been able to serve for five years. Without my wife at my side, I must step aside."
About Brad Smith
Age • 45
Family • He and his wife, Debbie, have three children attending Ogden schools.
Career • An attorney, Smith has worked as a Brigham City prosecutor and started his Ogden firm Stevenson and Smith in 1997.
New job • Superintendent of Ogden School District
Salary • $120,000 a year, plus up to an additional $30,000 if he meets goals set by the board. Smith said he will "walk the walk" since the board has announced a plan to move teachers toward a performance-pay model.