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Hundreds rally against new Ogden teacher contracts

OGDEN — Hundreds of teachers gathered Thursday to rally against the Ogden School Board's decision to draw up a contract without teacher input.

Wearing red and waving signs, Ogden teachers were joined by state lawmakers and educators from several other districts.

"I put in 20 years in this district, taught thousands of kids, made it my life, given all that I've had to make them better, and I got kicked in the face for it," Ogden Education Association President Doug Stephens told the men, women and children gathered.

The district and teacher's union couldn't come to a collective bargaining agreement for the 2010-11 school year, so teachers went to work without a contract while the OEA and board tried to work things out. After multiple mediation processes, negotiations dissolved and the board decided to move forward without the union in drafting the 2011-12 contract.

"What they have done is a violation of professional ethics and an attempt to break your spirit," said Donald Thomas, former superintendent of the Salt Lake School District.

The board sent out its own contract for teachers to sign on an individual basis at the end of June.

Board member Brad Smith wrote a letter to the media last week explaining that the board tried to meet with teachers to work out an agreement for the 2010-11 school year, but were rebuffed so the board moved forward unilaterally.

"It appears that association leadership chose brinksmanship without recognizing where the brink was," Smith wrote.

Rick Palmer, director of the Ogden and Weber associations, said the union had tried to contact the board, but was told by a spokesman the board wasn't ready to talk. Palmer said the OEA figured the two parties would get to work on the 2011-12 contract in June or July, and was shocked when they were issued the new contracts and told if they didn't sign, their jobs would be listed for hire.

Smith said once the school year was over, there was nothing more to negotiate on last year's contract and the board saw an opportunity to reverse "provisions contrary to the interests of children and district taxpayers," going forward.

The new contract includes stipulations for performance pay — something teachers say the district had never before expressed interest in during previous negotiations.

Over the next six years, the way raises are awarded will switch from an experience-based model — where teachers get an increase for years on the job — to a merit-based model — where a teacher's raise is based on an evaluation.

The board honors teachers, Smith said, which is why the district chose to spend federal dollars it received partway through last school year on giving teachers raises, even though the district wasn't contractually bound to do so. What's more, the new merit-based system will allow teachers with all levels of experience to benefit, instead of the current raise structure that caps out at 16 years of experience, he said.

Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh, president of the state's teachers union took time to specifically point out neither the state nor local unions oppose raises based on performance instead of experience. They oppose being excluded from the process.

"This is about bypassing teachers," she said. "We will continue to stand strong for collaboration, for our students, for our public schools and for our profession."

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