In-depth interviews help shed light on Ogden education debate


We have been writing a lot about the Ogden School District’s decision to sign its teachers on an individual basis and to move toward a pay-for-performance plan. These steps are important ones that could gradually help change the landscape of public education in the best interest of Utah students.

To help shed some light on why the district made this decision and on what interested parties think about it, we interviewed Noel Zabriskie, superintendent of Ogden School District; Doug Stephens, president of Ogden Education Association; and Derek Monson, manager of public policy at Sutherland Institute. Watch the video here:


As this debate continues, we hope that the Ogden School District, and all other districts and charter schools in Utah, will continue to move toward a system that does more to reward excellence, involve parents and focus on the children it is meant to educate.

Here’s the script of the video:

VOICE-OVER: In a move that has sent waves throughout Utah, the Ogden School District will not be negotiating with the Ogden Education Association for the teachers’ 2011 through 2012 contract. Noel Zabriskie, the superintendent for the Ogden Board of Education, explains why the district has made this decision.

NOEL ZABRISKIE: “Based upon the information that we released earlier, we had been in contract negotiations with the education association for 14-15 months; we did not reach contract agreement. Essentially, the contract ended, the school year ended, and feeling the sense of urgency to move this direction, and the board approved a new contract and asked the teachers to sign.”

VOICE-OVER: Teachers were told to sign and return the individual contract by July 20th [2010] or their jobs would be advertised as open for hire. Over the next six years, the district plans to replace “steps,” or the practice of giving raises based on years of experience, with a new system of performance-based pay.

NOEL ZABRISKIE: “We’ve had a downturn in the economy and the revenue picture has been pretty tough; we haven’t been able to fund “steps,” or longevity pay. And as the board looked at those kinds of things, realizing perhaps we need to be a bit more accountable relative to what the teacher is being able to do rather than just spend one more year within the Ogden School District.”

STAND UP: Doug Stephens, president of the Ogden Education Association, disagrees with the district’s decision.

DOUG STEPHENS: “The ‘sign or you lose your job’ is shocking, it’s so uncharitable. You’re talking every teacher in the district is being threatened, and every teacher in the district isn’t doing a bad job.”

VOICE-OVER: Stephens says the district abandoned them and has left the members of the association frightened.

DOUG STEPHENS: “The district is saying that we will include you, but their past actions in the last two weeks aren’t really indicative of that. And so it makes us very cautious; in the past we have always collaborated together, we have always tried to work out whatever challenges that we face. But this is frightening; it’s like we reached a tough place, and rather than sitting down and trying to find a solution to the tough situation that we were in, that we feel like the district bailed on us and didn’t want to include us anymore.”

VOICE-OVER: The superintendent said the contract sent to the teachers asks them for their input to help create this new performance-pay system.
NOEL ZABRISKIE: “First of all, the contract doesn’t talk about the performance-pay piece, what we put forward is this is a target of where we are heading, so sure they are signing on board to help create that if they choose to, but that in my mind is no different than any other teaching situation, any other school system: ‘Sign on board, we can’t tell you all the things you’re going to have to do while you’re doing your job, but here is the framework.’ ”

VOICE-OVER: Derek Monson with Sutherland Institute explains that teachers will be contributing to this process.

DEREK MONSON: “One of the big points that has been brought up is how the teachers don’t have input into this process, and groups like the unions have portrayed it that way, and I think that is inaccurate and misleading. The teachers signing their contracts will have input over the next several years with the district directly into how this performance-measurement system will be implemented and what will be used. That’s the purpose of these contracts that they’re sending out is to get the teachers’ input.”

VOICE-OVER: Sutherland Institute commends Ogden School District’s decision; they believe the focus should always be on providing the best educational experience for children and parents.

DEREK MONSON: “A system that drives outcomes of children and that uses payment and incentives to push for better outcomes and better results, is a great thing, and that’s what we should be encouraging in our education system.”

STAND UP: Ogden School District is on a path that will reward great teachers and help other teachers improve, which, in the end, will help more children succeed. And that’s something we can all agree on. For Sutherland Institute, I’m Alexis Young, reminding you that policy, good or bad, changes lives!