Don’t Slam the Door on Teachers
(Originally printed in the Salt Lake Tribune, July 17, 2011)
By Utah Education Association President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh
All great moments in history began when people came together for the greater good. In education, we know that the best learning takes place through a sharing of ideas, expertise and differing viewpoints. Indeed, the very nature of education is collaborative.
Ogden teachers have been given an ultimatum—sign a unilateral contract developed by the Ogden Board of Education by July 20 or their teaching position will be posted as open. How does this bullying ensure a positive environment for educators and their students? These are the same teachers who have been working without a contract for the past year, and who entered into fact-finding in good faith.
It should be no surprise that the teachers are upset by the Board’s ultimatum. The Ogden Board of Education rejected the conclusions reached by an independent fact finder, the former Chief Justice of the Utah Supreme Court, Michael Zimmerman. Thereafter, the Ogden Board breached its agreement to continue to negotiate after the contract expired and failed to engage in a single conversation with the teachers’ association regarding its proposed contract and new policy manual. Rather, the Board e-mailed 700+ teachers just prior to the Independence Day Holiday weekend and presented teachers with a brand new contract plus a brand new policy manual and an alleged 20-day window in which to take it or leave it. That is not bargaining, it is not professional, and it does not lead to better education for students.
The Ogden School Board, Senator Howard Stephenson and others have suggested these actions are related to a teacher performance pay system, with the implication being that the Ogden Education Association has objected to this notion.
The truth is much different. The idea of teacher merit pay has NEVER been brought to the Ogden Education Association for consideration – not in 2009, 2010 or 2011. It is difficult to be opposed to something which you have no idea is even “on the table.”
In fact, the Utah Education Association is engaged in a collaborative effort with the Utah State Board of Education, administrators, superintendents and others to develop teacher/administrator standards and evaluations. This work has been ongoing for more than a year. The partners in this work recognize this is a complicated issue with minimal research supporting the idea of paying teachers solely on test scores. Yet, the dialogue and work is moving forward in a thoughtful manner.
We applaud recent comments by Representative Greg Hughes recognizing that teachers, administrators and others must be integral partners in designing such a program. I have personally visited two schools that have implemented merit pay and the irony is that the teachers are more appreciative of the opportunity and time to discuss student learning than they are of the meager amount of money offered by the programs.
Ogden teachers educate some of the neediest children in Utah. They are committed to their students and their profession. They are the experts and their voices matter. It does not make much sense to vilify and exclude the most essential group in educating our children. It seems to me that political ideology is trumping collective improvement in this particular case.
It is in the best interest of students and teachers for the Ogden Education Association and the Ogden School Board to return to the bargaining table, and revive the spirit of collaboration so critical to an excellent education for every child.
Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh is president of the Utah Education Association. She is a National Board Certified educator and former Utah Teacher of the Year.
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