SALT LAKE CITY — A freshman state senator, who held a series of tell-all meetings with Utah school teachers, relayed to his colleagues Wednesday a common theme among public educators: Teacher morale is low.
"They are discouraging new teachers from entering the profession. ... They feel classroom size is an issue. ... They feel that they don't have the professional development support they need," said Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, at an Education Interim Committee meeting. "That's what they feel. I'm not validating it or invalidating it. I'm communicating it to this group."
Osmond went to teachers to get feedback on his controversial proposal that would make it easier to fire teachers. His legislation would dismantle current state orderly termination laws that require districts to have a specific, documented cause when firing teachers and allow teachers a chance for recourse. The proposal would also give more control to local districts so they can develop termination policies based on what works for them and institute one- to five-year contracts at the end of which schools could let teachers go without cause.
Osmond held four meetings where public school educators could give him a piece of their mind. Hundreds of teachers attended.
"Our public employees feel that there is a major morale problem in education," he said.
Both conservative and liberal state lawmakers thanked Osmond Wednesday for making the effort, even though it opened him and the Utah Legislature up to criticism.
"I think the response you've given us today is more useful and comes closer to dealing with the actual issues than we have dealt with before," said Rep. Kay McIff, R-Richfield.
Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, took issue with an assertion Osmond made that teachers don't think lawmakers spend enough time in classrooms, calling the claim "grossly unfair and not accurate."
Osmond said, "I am not challenging that all of you have spent hours and hours traveling the state and going to schools. ... I'm just suggesting that we have to address the perception."
Osmond said teachers told him they feel like lawmakers expect too much out of them, when they should place more responsibility on parents.
McIff agreed, saying the role of public schools has changed significantly in the last 30 years. "We just ask too much for them to realistically do. ... We cannot fail to address that in our approach to security and compensation."
Osmond said he still plans to move forward with his legislation once the 2012 Legislative Session begins in January, but he's tweaking based on the responses he received.
"I believe we can still accomplish the goals of this bill as originally proposed — not the specific approach, but the goals," he said.
Rep. Carol Moss, D-Holladay, praised Osmond's approach, though she didn't go so far as to say she would support his bill.
"You've awakened something in teachers that is so critical," she said. "You were so willing to listen."