Osmond Proposing Changes To Utah's Public Ed
by Bob Bernick, Utah Policy Contributing Editor
November 9, 2011
A freshman state senator will take to the 2012 Legislature one of the most touchy issues of public education – how to pay and fire school teachers.
Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan – who will be chair of the Senate Education Standing Committee – has put forward a far-reaching proposal that includes a small performance pay component and would significantly change how teachers are evaluated and, if necessary, terminated by their local school districts.
His proposal – and citizens’ (mostly teachers’) reactions to it – can be found here on the state’s public education blogger web site.
You should read Osmond’s proposal, it’s well-thought out and interesting.
Osmond – who was appointed to fill out the term of former Sen. Chris Buttars after Buttars resigned following the 2011 Legislature – said he’s committed to doing something to “expedite the removal of bad teachers and further reward great teachers.”
“But I’m not married to my (initial) proposal.” And he’s willing to make changes – as long as his goals are met.
Osmond’s proposal is not officially opposed by the Utah Education Association, the largest teacher union in the state.
But UEA president Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh says that teachers and administrators are already working out some of the problems with teacher employment, including a new peer assistance program for new teachers and remedial training/removal for poor teachers.
Gallagher-Fishbaugh praises Osmond for his sincere outreach efforts to teachers and administrators.
“This is very refreshing,” she told UtahPolicy. “We’ve never seen this kind of cooperative effort (by a Utah legislator) before.”
Osmond and Utah Public Education Superintendent Larry Shumway (the state school board supports Osmond’s general ideas, he said) are traveling the state meeting with teachers and other interested parties.
Osmond met for half a day with UEA leaders and they agreed on several points, he told UtahPolicy.
Monday night Osmond and Shumway met with teachers in Weber County, and Osmond said the room was packed with 165 people concerned with his proposal.
He said after speaking with those present for nearly two hours, he felt they all left feeling better.
“Clearly, this is an incredibly sensitive issue. Teachers feel so beat up with all that happening in the Legislature (concerning funding, curriculum and other public education issues),” said Osmond.
Both Osmond and Gallagher-Fishbaugh said something must be done to help new teachers, with nearly half of them quitting the profession in the first three-to-five years.
Teacher moral is low, both said, as class-size has been rising and pay stuck during the recession.
But, said Gallagher-Fishbaugh, she and other teachers believe Osmond’s basic proposal follows the lines of the conservative government group ALEC – the American Legislative Exchange Council.
ALEC is a business-sponsored group whose general aims are to reform state and federal government along marketplace lines, and in general opposing unionization.
“ALEC is pushing an anti-teacher, anti-collective bargaining agenda,” she said.
“They want to eliminate collective bargaining, which would cripple us.”
Gallagher-Fishbaugh said in general local school boards and administrations “overwhelmingly support our right to collective bargaining.”
However, this past summer Ogden School District leaders gave up on collective bargaining, offering teachers a “take-it-or-leave-it” contract to sign or not teach or be employed this school year.
While the other 40 local school districts reached agreement with their teachers and non-teaching employees, many teachers fear the Ogden district precedence.
“There are a great deal of misconceptions out there,” said Gallagher-Fishbaugh. Many Utahns think that public school teachers have some kind of guaranteed employment, like college professors and tenure. “That is not the case.” School teachers can, and are, fired regularly, she said.
But Osmond and others believe the current removal track is too time consuming and difficult, and often district administrators just try to work around bad teachers – and that hurts students and parents.
Osmond wants to streamline poor teacher removal, make 5 percent of teacher pay based on performance, to reward good teachers, and to provide different pay scales based not only on how good you are but also on the market demand of what you are teaching.
For example, perhaps math, science and special needs teachers – who are in great demand – would be paid more.
Osmond is aware that some of his detractors are claiming conflict of interest. But he says there is none. Osmond runs a professional investor education program that helps folks learn about financial investing and provides training for investor instructors.
His firm has nothing to do with public education and provides no certificates for anyone who would teach in public schools, he said.
On the state office of education blogger web site some of the reactions to Osmond’s ideas are lengthy, some rather short.
Viewmont High School art teacher Stephen G. Boehme’s is to the point:
“Why are all the problems in education always blamed on teachers?
“This legislation proposition does nothing but hurt the status of teachers who are already doing their best. It does nothing more than justify saving money by paying teachers less and letting teachers go.
Does this proposition:
-- Reduce my class size….. No. (He has 34-45 kids (per class).
-- Provide teachers with more training…….No.
-- Improve school infrastructure………No.
-- Provide money for instructional materials and supplies……..No.
“Will it hurt the moral of teachers who work hard and care for Utah’s children….Yes.
“Parents, teachers and district officials who know the needs of their community should be making decisions that affect the lives of Utah students and teachers, not politicians seeking to cut the state budget. Public education is not a corporation. “How can politicians determine merit pay or what makes a teacher great?”