OGDEN -- Teachers employed by the Ogden School District will get letters over this holiday weekend, informing them they have 20 days or fewer to sign a new contract or they will lose their jobs.
After months of contract negotiations with the teachers' association, the school district announced Thursday that it will bypass the representative body and offer a take-it-or-leave-it contract deal to its individual teachers.
The letters sent to teachers end with the words: "Please note that should we not receive your signed contract by 4:00 p.m. on July 20, 2011, we will declare your current position open for hire."
District Superintendent Noel R. Zabriskie said his word of choice to describe the school board's decision, and the features of the new contract, is "bold."
Doug Stephens, president of the Ogden Education Association, one of the organizations representing teachers in negotiations, said he is shocked.
"It is unprecedented in the state of Utah," Stephens said. "It's crazy. No school district or school board has ever done this before. This is a horrible thing."
Zabriskie told the Standard-Examiner
that, under the new contract, teachers who sign will receive a 2.93 percent increase in salary, with 1.6 percent a cost-of-living raise. The raise money will come from the district's rainy day fund.
Insurance costs will not go up.
The Ogden School District plans to phase out pay steps, a widely used system that rewards teachers with pay increases based on the number of years worked.
After a transition period that will last six years, the district plans to go to a system of raises based solely on merit. After research, a system of merit measurement will be devised or adopted by the district, Zabriskie said.
Details have not yet been determined.
Eugene Hart, district business administrator, said because of a $2.3 million cut in district funding by the 2011 Utah Legislature, the Ogden School Board had to set priorities.
Zabriskie said the board's five main goals in decision making were: no increase in taxes, no increases in class size, no reductions in the school year, no reduction in personnel (except where categorical funding was reduced), and no reduction in student programs.
Stephens said the school district is trying to break teachers' representative bodies and intimidate teachers into signing contracts that "sneak a lot of other things in."
Performance pay is among his biggest concerns.
"So the NEA, President Obama and Congress have all been trying to figure out a fair system of performance pay, and no one has been able to come up with a system that is equitable, but a few board members and administrators in Ogden just magically have the answers?" Stephens said.
Stephens likened determining merit pay to trying to judge a dentist on how many fillings patients needed when the dentist had no way to control whether patients brushed their teeth.
"There's going to be a mass exodus of quality teachers, and they may not be replaced with the same kind of exceptional teachers that can change a kid's whole outlook and make him feel better about himself," he said.
"We are losing teachers right now, over the summer. Teachers are not going to stay in a district when they can get paid $3,000 or $4,000 (more) in another district."
Stephens said there is a false impression, created by the media, that teachers and their representative groups are greedy. He said Ogden School District teachers have not asked for a raise in recent years and have gone without step increases for three years straight.
"The Ogden School District is not willing to negotiate with teachers' associations and is telling us we don't matter," Stephens said.
"They think they have all the answers and don't need to discuss anything with the people who have education degrees and who are in the classrooms every day. We're not going to take it lying down. We're going to fight."
Jay Blain, spokesman for the Utah Education Association, said his office also is disappointed by the Ogden School Board's decision.
"It's unfortunate they are not collaborating with the association to work together for the best outcome for students and teachers in the district," he said. "Across the state, we see the vast majority of districts working collaboratively with teachers' associations.
"We are saddened by the turn of events in Ogden. In any employment environment where workers don't feel respected, there's going to be difficulty. They always say they want to attract and retain more teachers, and Ogden will find doing that more difficult with this kind of action."