OGDEN - Two political groups have chosen opposing sides regarding the Ogden School Board's ultimatum to teachers to sign their contracts by July 20 or lose their jobs.
The Sutherland Institute, a conservative, state-based public policy organization, issued a statement Friday saying it "lauds Ogden School District's decision to take steps toward creating a performance-based pay system over the next six years."
The Utah House Democrats also issued a statement Friday stating that it stands with teachers and supports collective bargaining in public education.
Ogden School Board President Don Belnap said he hadn't heard either statement, but it makes no difference on the school board's decision.
"No articles, blogs or comments are causing us to change our minds. We are standing firm and not questioning our decision," Belnap said.
Belnap feels what the board is offering is what is best for teachers in the district, better than what they have now. With the 2011/12 contract teachers will get a 1.6 percent cost of living raise, not have to pay increased insurance premiums and also get additional salary increases based on time teaching in the district, up to 3 percent with the 1.6 percent increase.
Ogden Education Association president Doug Stephens said he is not surprised that groups are weighing in on the board's decision.
"It just shows there's a lot more to this than this unprecedented news. There is definitely an agenda," Stephens said. "I'm not surprised that conservative groups feel the teachers association stood in the way of the board making a decision."
Stephens doesn't believe that is necessarily true, but also thinks public education has been a target of conservative groups and that many think merit pay is the "silver bullet" that will solve all of education's problems.
Stephens said he has stated, along with the Utah Education Association, that teachers are not opposed to merit pay.
"It is just a complex issue and difficult to assess," Stephens said.
Derek Monson, the manager of public policy for the Sutherland Institute, said in the statement that rewarding the best teachers is key.
"Handing out automatic pay raises to all teachers based on years served, without regard to effectiveness, makes it very difficult for school districts to reward excellent teachers and fails to incentivize teachers trying to excel. If the pay raise is coming anyway, that is just one more reason to not put in the effort," Monson said.
Monson wrote a 17-page report in 2009 encouraging schools to move to a performance-based system. The full essay can be found at http://www.sutherlandinstitute.org/uploads/SilverBullet.pdf.
For Stephens, he said teachers feel shut out by the district and would like a chance to come to the table and meet in the middle.
"That's what a contract is. What they've given us isn't a contract," Stephens said.
The new contract given to the teachers by the board has over 100 changes in it, he said.
House Minority Leader David Litvack said public negotiations were vital for teachers.
"Teachers in Ogden have worked without a contract since 2009. For the Ogden School Board to simply shut the door on communication with teachers for three years running is unacceptable," Litvack said.
Belnap said the board hasn't shut out the teachers and wants what is best for the teachers and ultimately the students.
"We didn't choose not to negotiate, that is not accurate. Negotiations failed," Belnap said.
He listed the steps of an impasse, a mediator and a hearing officer that were all involved with the 2010/11 contracts and yet still no contract was signed.
"We weren't going to sit around and wait all summer to get this taken care of. We need to move forward," Belnap said.
Litvack said the Democratic legislators in Utah are willing to address education reform plans but for the school district to not negotiate for next year is wrong.
"In the end, this counterproductive behavior by Ogden school officials will only hurt our children," Litvack said in the statement.
Belnap said over 100 teachers have already signed their contracts and doesn't anticipate a mass exodus of teachers come July 20, but if that does happen, he feels confident that there are teachers who do want jobs that will apply.
"We truly hope they will stay," Belnap said of the teachers currently employed by the district. "But if not, we wish them well."
The OEA is planning a rally for 10 a.m. Thursday at Liberty Park in Ogden. Stephens said there are no plans for a strike, but he has asked teachers to hold off on signing their contracts while the OEA and UEA attorneys review the contracts. He said he does understand, though, if teachers have vacations or other things to do and need to sign their contracts now.
"We want them to do what is best for their families," he said. "This has come at a bad time for us."