Ogden School District: a radical approach to teacher pay?


The Ogden School District is offering its teachers a take-it-or-leave-it employment contract (including a 1.6 percent raise) which each teacher must sign individually by July 20 or risk becoming unemployed.

Ogden High School; Photo credit: Pitamakan

The district decided to act on its own after an impasse in contract negotiations with the Ogden Education Association earlier this year.

The district also wants to phase out its use of “steps” for pay increases based on years of experience in favor of performance-based pay. Predictably, Utah’s teachers’ unions are up in arms over these changes, likely because it limits their bargaining power. They also believe the district’s actions show that teachers are “not well-respected.”

Is the Ogden School District’s choice to sign teachers individually and offer merit pay radical?

Hardly. It’s actually one step closer to what the vast majority of Utah employers choose to do. Only 6.5 percent of all Utah workers belong to a union (3.9 percent of all private sector employees, 17.5 percent of all public sector employees). Presumably, the other 93.5 percent of Utah workers enjoy the freedom to negotiate their own terms of employment.

I negotiate my salary with my employer and receive raises and bonuses based on my own qualifications and performance, independent of any of my colleagues. Most likely you do the same. Does something about the teaching profession warrant a different approach?

The only employees who need fear individual contract negotiations or a good merit pay plan are those who perform below their employer’s expectations. In most cases, it makes sense that workers who perform well have a stronger bargaining position than what a union can offer.

Individuals can demand higher pay based on their own qualifications or threaten to leave for a better offer. As a bonus, individuals who “go it alone” can save money by not paying union dues, which in Ogden are as much as $536 per year.

In contrast, union members who perform well have to take whatever the union can get them, which is based on the performance of the average employee. Unions might be able to help negotiate higher wages and benefits for all workers as a group, but much of that increase goes to union members who perform at or below average rather than to above average workers.

For good teachers, individual bargaining is better than collective bargaining because they earn more money, and it also benefits our schools and students by rewarding teacher excellence rather than mediocrity.

Good teachers deserve respect. One step they can take to gain more of it is to opt out of their local teachers’ union and negotiate their own terms of employment. For this option to become a regular one, the Ogden School District and other districts statewide need to continue to reform teacher pay policies. Ogden is taking a step in the right direction.