OGDEN -- After a volatile summer of contract-signing ultimatums and teacher protests, new Ogden School District Superintendent Brad C. Smith is hoping for a quieter and more productive autumn.
"We are not trying to re-create who we think is to blame at this time," Smith told the Standard-Examiner. "It was a breakdown of effective communications among parties, which led to a whole series of unfortunate results."
Smith said he hopes the district and teachers will never again be in that stressful position.
"I can't promise, but I hope and expect that won't happen," he said. "My intent is that it will not happen."
In early July, after months of unsuccessful negotiations, the school board sent teachers nonnegotiated contracts with multiple changes, including the gradual elimination of steps, traditional pay increases based on years of service. After a six-year transition, merit pay will be the main way raises are determined. The ultimatum to teachers was to sign or find a new job.
Smith, an attorney, was on the Ogden School Board at that time. He recently resigned his board position to take the position of district superintendent following the resignation of Noel Zabriskie for family-related reasons.
Smith's first meeting as superintendent was with teacher representatives from the Ogden Education Association and UniServ. He sent a memo to district employees on Sept. 7, the same day.
"We openly and frankly discussed some of the challenges of the past six months," Smith wrote in the memo, which he said was read and approved by all at the meeting. "We are in agreement that one of the principle causes of the difficulties has been a failure to communicate. We also reached some basic understandings to avoid these difficulties in the future and to begin to heal the relationship."
The memo went on to state three mutual understandings reached during his meeting with teachers' representatives.
- District and OEA agreed to engage in interest-based contract negotiations for the 2012-13 school year.
- District leadership and its bargaining team, along with the OEA and its bargaining team, will begin joint training in interest-based negotiations.
- And the OEA, which represents a substantial majority of teachers in the Ogden School District, is confirmed to be the appropriate bargaining agent for the negotiations, as would any other group representing the majority of administrative or classified employees.
Interest-based negotiations is explained by the website beyondintractability.org as negotiations in which the parties collaborate to find a win-win solution to their dispute.
Smith told the Standard-Examiner that all parties involved in negotiations agreed to "tone it down, and pull back a little bit."
"We have agreed to have some counseling," he added.
Cal Udy, Utah's American Federation of Teachers labor relations representative, said the memo does nothing to increase his faith in Smith.
"I feel like he's an attorney and has finally come to the realization that they were wrong in what they (OSD leadership) did," Udy said.
"I think this is a roleplay, because they know what they've done about this is all wrong."
Udy believes Smith's appointment was not legal and has filed GRAMA requests with the Ogden School District for all information related to contract negotiations, Smith's hiring, and Smith's qualifications to serve as superintendent.
The state Board of Education on Friday granted Smith the waiver needed for him to serve as superintendent despite his lack of an administrative license.
Don Belnap, Ogden School Board president, said he sees Smith's letter to teachers as a positive step.
"I believe the superintendent's memo is definitely a positive action of moving things forward," Belnap said.
UniServ director Rick Palmer posted news of the memo on the UniServ blog, http://ogdenweber-uniserv.blogspot.com.
"It is a big win for OEA and it allows (the OEA) to begin to repair relations with the district and receive training in interest-based bargaining which allows for more collaboration," Palmer wrote.