Teacher contracts settled quickly in Weber, Ogden

Saturday , June 14, 2014 - 4:30 PM

Standard-Examiner staff

Employee agreements have been ratified in both the Ogden and Weber school districts.

“This is the earliest, in my memory, that we’ve been able to settle with all three groups,” Robert Petersen, Weber School District’s business administrator, said in the Board of Education meeting Wednesday. “It went very smoothly this year.”

At Ogden School District’s Board of Education meeting Thursday, Superintendent Brad Smith said he things the district is in a very positive place.

“This year especially, there was an innovative collaborative approach to negotiation that was actually just, frankly an inspiring thing to be part of,” he said.

Matt Ogle, executive director of Ogden-Weber UniServ, which works with the Ogden and Weber education associations, was part of negotiations in both districts.

“Weber’s was the more simple one,” he said, explaining that it was mostly a matter of economics. “They come to the table with all of their cards open, saying here’s how much money we have.”

Then it’s just a matter of working out how much will be spent on raises, and how much on other benefits.

“The teachers will get their pay steps, and steps are based on years of experience,” Ogle said. “They also will get lanes.”

Lanes are pay increments based on education levels.

“So teachers are encouraged to keep getting more education,” said Ogle.

There will also be a 1.25 percent cost of living increase, and the district will be able to put more money toward health insurance.

“The highest increase was about an $18 per month increase for the most expensive plan,” Ogle said.

Kristen Morey of Ogden, who works at Fremont High School in Weber School District, said the new contract sounds good.

“But I’m a fine print reader — I’ll feel like I have more of an opinion when I actually see the details,” she said.

Weber has a fairly traditional bargaining process, Ogle said, with groups coming to the table with proposals and then haggling over details to create the best agreement possible.

“In Ogden, they go in with problems, and then both sides address how to improve the situation,” he said. “In my opinion it’s a better way to approach it to come up with creative solutions to difficult problems.”

That method of negotiating was adopted after 2011, when contract negotiations between Ogden School District and its teachers broke down.

“It really has been a success,” Ogle said, noting that communication is more open and less confrontational.

This process can be slower, because the idea is to solve the root cause of problems using available resources. This year, one of the problems brought to negotiations was teacher retention.

“We wanted to address that, because we don’t want to lose valuable teachers,” said Ogle.

One of the root causes could be that Ogden School District froze pay steps during the recession, so the new agreement reinstates them.

“Monetarily, that decreases the draw of other districts where they could make $3,000 to $4,000 more,” he said. “Now they’re going to get that pay here in Ogden.”

Negotiations also resulted in a single-lane salary schedule.

“We don’t have lanes anymore,” Ogle said. “Instead, if you increase your education you would get additional steps.”

In the past, step increases ranged from $1,000 to $1,500, and a long-term employee could top out on the salary schedule. The new contract sets step increases at $875, but adds more of them.

“All starting salaries have increased for new teachers, and then it never tops out — you advance every year,” said Ogle. “You won’t advance as fast to the current top point... but you go further, and lifetime earnings will be substantially higher.”

Negotiations also tightened language regarding layoffs, giving those who lose jobs because of a reduction of positions first shot at other positions in the district. Stipends for department heads at junior high schools were also approved, similar to those for high school department heads.

The district will be offering three insurance plans, ranging from a base plan at no cost to employees, to a more expensive and traditional employee-paid plan.

One of the biggest changes is that this year negotiations produced a three-year contract. The agreement does cover possible raises during the three year period, based on increases in the weighted pupil unit — any money left after retirement obligations are met will go to cost of living increases.

“With the three-year contract we’ve agreed to quarterly negotiating sessions on an ongoing basis, so that hopefully some of the concerns that we have can be addressed in a much closer to real-time basis,” said Smith.

Ogle says both sides bargained in good faith.

“They laid it all out on table, and quite honestly we were able to achieve more than the association really anticipated going into the process,” Ogle said.

Jenny Venegas, a teacher at Highland Junior High School in Ogden School District, said she’s very excited for the new contract — and not just because she’s getting a pay raise.

“I like that OEA and the district worked hard for a common agreement, and both sides made concessions, and I think everyone’s happy with what the end result is.”

Venegas’ first year of teaching was in Chicago, where a three-year contract was the norm.

“I think this will alleviate the stress of year to year wondering what will happen,” she said.

She’s happy steps are back.

“This is the first time in several years that steps have not only been honored, but all of my years at the district will be recognized and I’ll be paid accordingly,” Venegas said.

Miguel Aguilar, a teacher at Ogden High School, said the Ogden Education Association did a great job of voicing teachers’ concerns.

“I’m very happy with the contract,” he said. “I haven’t had a raise since I got hired, because they held our steps ... so having this come back was nice.”

He’s also glad the district seems to be working on the teacher turnover issue.

“I’ve heard they’re trying to become one of the higher-paid districts so we can attract quality teachers. If that’s the truth, I’m happy with that,” he said.

Contracts were also ratified in both districts for classified employees and administrators.

Contact reporter Becky Wright at 801-625-4274 or bwright@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @ReporterBWright.

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