August 2016, Vol. 1

Peering into the crystal ball: Seven predictions for HR in 2016–17

by Amy Campbell

“Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future.” – Niels Bohr, Nobel laureate physicist

While predicting the future sounds like the stuff of horoscopes and psychics, anticipating what’s headed our way can help us be prepared for the possible challenges. What’s in store for HR in 2016–17? Let’s take a look into our crystal ball….

1. T-TESS implementation

Beginning July 1, all school districts in the state were required to implement a new educator evaluation system – either the state-recommended Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System (T-TESS, for short), or a locally developed system that shares T-TESS characteristics. More than 200 districts have been piloting T-TESS for the past two years, so implementation for almost a quarter of the state’s districts has been gradually phased in. But, for those districts just kicking off the new system this year, a major culture shift is underway.

While feedback from the T-TESS pilot districts has been overwhelmingly positive, they’ve shared that implementation has come with its challenges. Some things districts will need to consider with implementation include:
  • Appraisers will need to spend more time evaluating teachers under T-TESS—estimates range from four to eight hours per teacher, compared to the one to three hours required under the Professional Development and Appraisal System (PDAS).
  • Districts may choose to add staff to support campus administrators, given the additional appraisal time requirements.
  • Districts may choose to add technology to support the new observation and evaluation processes.
  • If districts choose to add staff or technology, budget impacts are likely. In subsequent years, additional appraiser training will carry a cost, as well.
 
How to prepare:

The big takeaway from pilot districts is that moving to T-TESS is a major culture shift. District staff will feel uncomfortable with this monumental change, and HR staff and other district leaders will undoubtedly hear grumblings about their discomfort. The message from pilot districts has been “stick with it—it gets better,” and for many pilot districts, things “got better” by spring of their first year of implementation. As educators become comfortable with the new system, their discomfort will ebb and eventually disappear. HR staff can assist with this transition by communicating with teachers about performance expectations regularly, identifying ways to support campus administrators with their additional appraisal workload, and helping facilitate an understanding districtwide that T-TESS is a significant improvement in supporting teacher development and growth. 

2. FLSA changes

It’s probably no surprise by now that big changes are on tap for the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Effective December 1, the minimum salary threshold for exempt status will increase to $913 per week, or $47,476 for a year-round employee. More details about the changes were provided in an HR Exchange special issue in June 2016.
 
How to prepare:

By now, many districts will have reviewed the pay of exempt employees to determine whether their pay rate will meet the minimum salary threshold when it increases on December 1. Districts that have not yet reviewed pay should do so in the coming weeks and be prepared to take action to implement changes by December. To support district staff understanding of the changes, TASB HR Services has two recorded webinars available at no cost to members. We will continue to release guidance and additional resources leading up to December 1, so keep an eye out for additional resources in HR Exchange and the HR Library.

3. Loss of ASATR funding and other financial woes

School finance problems are a perennial topic at the Texas Legislature, and the upcoming session will be no different. Districts continually struggle with funding issues, but this year seems to be particularly tough for districts that have been receiving Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction (ASATR) from the state. The amount of ASATR funding districts receive has been declining from a high of $5.7 billion in 2007–08 to this year’s $251 million, and the number of districts receiving the funding has been declining since 2006–07—from a high of 1,217 districts to only 192 this year. In the 2017–18 school year, ASATR funding is set to disappear entirely, so districts that have relied on those funds are having to find other ways to balance their budgets.

Additionally, the more than 600 districts that filed a lawsuit back in 2011 challenging the state’s school funding formula were disappointed when the Texas Supreme Court ruled the state school funding system constitutional earlier this year. While the justices said the system needs to be revamped, they stopped short of requiring lawmakers to take action to improve the system this session, as districts had hoped. Legislators are expected to tackle the issue in the session kicking off in January 2017, but relief could be a long time coming.

How to prepare:

Unfortunately, there’s not much that can be done, at this point. Districts can focus on being strategic in their compensation and staffing decisions, but it’s really a waiting game until the legislature can provide some relief. 

4. Certification changes

There have been several recent changes to State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) rules that will impact HR moving into the 2016–17 school year. Some of the bigger changes include:
  • No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requirements will not be in effect for 2016–17, so districts now only have to meet state requirements for teacher certification (i.e., current SBEC rules). However, paraprofessionals still must meet the highly qualified requirements of NCLB for 2016–17.
  • Current or former members of the U.S. military who seek a Trades and Industry certificate are now able to use experience in a specific trade gained during their military service to satisfy the requirement of holding a license or other professional credential for that trade. The military experience provision may encourage more current and former military to pursue teaching as a post-armed services career.
  • People seeking certification may not retake an examination more than four times, unless SBEC waives the limitation for good cause. Additionally, the Generalist EC-6 (Test 191) and Core Subjects EC-6 (Test 291) examinations are different tests and are not combined in the retake policy. Also, each administration/test date of the Core Subjects or portions of the Core Subjects count as an attempt. These new test limitations may make it substantially more difficult for some individuals to become certified.
  • School boards may now issue a school district teaching permit for non-core academic career and technical education areas based on qualifications certified by the superintendent of the district. This new freedom can allow for speedier certification of CTE teachers by avoiding the lengthier SBEC processes.
  • SB 1309 of the 84th Legislative Session created an optional JROTC teacher standard certificate that would allow an ROTC instructor to achieve a standard certificate, thus eliminating the need to annually seek an emergency ROTC permit.

How to prepare:

These certification changes are a mixed bag for district HR staff. Some may assist recruitment efforts, such as the district-issued teaching permit for CTE courses, but others, like the certification test limits, may make life more difficult. Being aware of the rules changes is certainly critical, and organizations like the Texas Association of School Personnel Administrators (TASPA) are available to provide expert guidance and assistance. And, of course, compliance is key.

5. Increased student protections from inappropriate behavior from school employees

The number of inappropriate relationships between students and educators in Texas has steadily increased over the past few years, and lawmakers are taking notice. The legislature is expected to take up the issue again in the upcoming session. Some actions that could be taken include:
  • Expanding sanctions to principals, not just superintendents;
  • Restricting districts from reaching settlement agreements with employees that keep information confidential;
  • Requiring educator preparation programs to provide training to participants on inappropriate behavior and ethics;
  • Developing language that promotes sharing of honest references between districts;
  • Providing districts with automatic notification of certification sanctions; and
  • Increasing requirements for employees to report a broader range of suspected incidents.

How to prepare:

There’s nothing specific required of districts at this point, but HR staff should be aware of legislative actions related to educator misconduct, as they may place additional requirements on HR and district staff.

6. Worsening shortage of teachers in hard-to-fill areas

Texas has certified bilingual as a teacher shortage area every year since 1990–91, and math and science have been certified annually since 1993–94, so it’s no surprise that we’re still suffering from shortages in these areas heading into the 2016–17 school year. And the shortage is only getting worse as enrollment grows. We’ve seen a more than 47 percent increase in English Language Learner students, and a 19 percent increase in total student enrollment statewide in the past 10 years. More students means more teachers are needed in these hard-to-fill areas.

While the number of teachers gaining certification is increasing, the supply isn’t keeping up with school district demands, meaning districts are still struggling to fill vacancies.

How to prepare:

Most research shows that the highest quality teachers usually are tagged by districts earlier in the hiring season, so districts with vacancies in this hard-to-fill areas should focus on hiring in January through April, rather than May through July. To best compete with their peer districts in the limited talent pool, districts should review their recruitment processes and identify and remove impediments to filling vacancies early.

More than 90 percent of districts with at least 3,000 students pay a critical shortage area stipend. Math and science stipends are the most commonly paid, but districts generally pay more for bilingual stipends. The number of districts paying these stipends, and the values of the stipends themselves, have been increasing over the past several years. To remain competitive, districts should review both the stipends they’re paying and their teacher pay rates against their market peer districts and be willing to make adjustments to match or exceed market values.

7. TRS-Care and TRS-ActiveCare changes

Moving to our final prediction—In the 2015 legislative session, HB 2974 created a legislative joint interim committee to study TRS-Care and TRS-ActiveCare. The committee has already held two meetings this year—one in March on TRS-Care and one in April on ActiveCare—to review and consider reforms to the current TRS insurance programs. State and minimum district contributions for ActiveCare haven’t changed since the program was created in 2003, and the employee share of health care premiums has doubled from 30 percent to more than 60 percent in the past 12 years.

In 2014, TRS conducted an affordability and sustainability study that resulted in a dozen options for change, ranging from full funding from the state to eliminating uniform, statewide coverage. As the joint interim committee continues its work, legislators have reportedly said fixing TRS-Care and TRS-ActiveCare is a priority this session, and some sort of corrective action by the legislature is expected this school year.

How to prepare:

There is nothing specific TRS-ActiveCare districts have to do to prepare, other than remain aware of legislative progress toward change this year. However, district HR staff certainly can advocate for improvement of TRS health care programs at the state level, either individually or through state associations to which they belong.