Poll results: Most districts will give modest pay raises in 2015–16

More school districts in Texas plan to give a pay increase in 2015‒16, but the increase amount remains almost unchanged from last year, according to the latest poll on prospective pay raises conducted by TASB HR Services.

A survey of TASB HR Services member school districts finds that about 80 percent of districts (230 respondents) anticipate giving a pay raise for 2015‒16. Of those districts planning a salary increase, the average pay raise is 2.2 percent (or a 2 percent median increase). This being a legislative year, districts commented that they were unsure of increase amounts pending legislation.

Districts anticipating a pay increase varied significantly by region of Texas. Among ESCs that had an overall response rate of about 25 percent or more, Regions 3 (Victoria), 4 (Houston), 6 (Huntsville), 13 (Austin), and 15 (San Angelo) had 90 percent or more of responding districts anticipate giving a raise. While only half (or fewer) of districts anticipate pay raises in Regions 14 (Abilene), 17 (Lubbock), and 18 (Midland).
Responses also vary by Texas Education Agency (TEA)-defined community types. Ninety percent or more of districts in one of the following community types are giving pay increases: independent town, major suburban, non-metropolitan: fast growing, and other central city. Sixty-five percent of responding rural districts anticipate giving a pay increase.
Furthermore, only 54 percent of districts with less than 500 students (which represent about 30 percent of Texas school districts) plan to provide a pay raise. Among districts with enrollment of 3,000 or more, approximately 95 percent are planning a pay raise.

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Of those districts anticipating an increase, 32 percent expect to give a 2 percent raise. Approximately one-quarter of respondents anticipate an increase of 3 percent. Nearly 25 percent of districts expect to provide an amount that is less than 2 percent.
Average prospective pay increases varied by ESC Region. Regions 10 (2.8 percent) and 4 (2.5 percent) reported the highest average increase, while Regions 13 (1.6 percent) and 18 (1.7 percent) reported the lowest average increases.
More than 90 percent of districts plan to increase pay for all employees, similar to last year’s results. Three percent of respondents will give raises to teachers only and 5 percent plan a pay increase for some other job group or combination of job groups.
Forty percent of districts intend to calculate the increase based on a percentage of the pay range midpoint. Nearly a third of districts (32 percent) will base it on a percentage of employee salaries, and this group primarily comprises districts with less than 1,600 student enrollment. In addition, other responding districts (28 percent) will use some other calculation method or combination of methods, including “step” schedule increases and equity adjustments.
Poll results are based on survey responses of 289 Texas school districts collected in April 2015. Respondents to the survey represented TASB HR Services member districts in all ESC Regions and TEA enrollment groups. This is the fourth year of conducting the prospective pay increase poll, providing an early picture of the pay increases expected statewide.
Looking for more HR data? All HR Services member districts can access up-to-date salary and stipend data in DataCentral. Our online surveys cover such topics as supplemental pay, insurance premiums, employment contracts, and more. To participate in these surveys, visit HR Surveys in DataCentral.

TRS clarifies ACA enrollment reporting requirements, will assist ActiveCare districts

The Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) recently notified the Texas school districts that participate in TRS-ActiveCare that the PPO plans it offers (TRS-ActiveCare 1-HD, TRS-ActiveCare Select, and TRS-ActiveCare 2) are considered “self-funded multiple employer plans.”
TRS initially said that districts with employees enrolled in a TRS-ActiveCare PPO would be responsible for doing all the Affordable Care Act (ACA) enrollment reporting required by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
Since then, TRS has come up with an alternate solution to help participating school districts handle enrollment reporting and comply with IRS requirements. As the plan sponsor, districts will be able to delegate to TRS reporting requirements for employees or COBRA participants who are enrolled in any of the PPOs listed above. TRS will provide more detailed guidance on how the process will work within 30 days. 
At present, we expect that districts that want to delegate enrollment reporting to TRS will have to do the following:

  • Notify TRS by a set date—probably before the start of school—that they want the agency’s assistance.
  • Sign a written agreement, as required by IRS rules.
  • Agree to collect spouse and dependent Social Security Numbers or tax identification numbers for all those enrolled in health coverage, including COBRA participants. IRS rules require two attempts to obtain that information.
  • Agree to provide TRS with updated employee addresses by a set date each year.
  • Pay the cost for printing and mailing statements to employees (estimated at $1 to $3 per employee per calendar year—basically the costs TRS incurs in the process).
  • Districts will still be required to file reports on full-time employees by completing Parts I and II of Form 1095-C.
Districts that have their own self-funded insurance coverage should check with their third-party administrator to determine responsibility for reporting requirements.
School administrators who participated in our recent ACA Reporting Requirements Webinar should note that none of the information provided has changed; districts that want to do the reporting on their own can do so. For those that didn’t take part, an audio recording of the Webinar complete with detailed handouts is available for purchase ($75) on HR Services’ Website.

Going it alone

Self-insured large employer districts that choose to do their own enrollment reporting must complete and file the IRS Form 1095-C, “Employer Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage,” for each enrolled employee, full-time or not, and all COBRA participants. Enrollment information will be reported in Part III.  Self-insured districts that aren’t large employers must complete and file Form 1095-B, reporting essentially the same information for all employees that enrolled in coverage in 2015.
Self-funded districts that aren’t in TRS-ActiveCare should be able to get reporting assistance from their third-party administrator or a consultant.

Reporting deadlines

The deadline to provide statements to employees (Form 1095-C and, if applicable, Form 1095-B) is Jan. 31, which happens to be a Sunday in 2016. As a result, districts will have until Monday, Feb. 1 to provide employees with statements.
Districts that submit their reports to the IRS on paper have until Feb. 29, 2016. Those that want to submit their information electronically have an extra month, with submissions due on March 31, 2016. Districts with 250 or more employees are required to file their reports electronically, and those with less than 250 employees are encouraged to file electronically.

The benefit of paying the best teachers to teach more students

Paying the most effective teachers in a district more for adding students to their classroom can improve student performance and remain cost neutral or even achieve cost savings, according to a new study from the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University. Edunomics Lab is a university-based research center focused on exploring and modeling complex education finance decisions.
While the researchers acknowledge that surveys have found parents typically support smaller class sizes, they also cite research that shows student gains from smaller class sizes are far outweighed by gains from being taught by a more effective teacher.
Using Cypress-Fairbanks ISD data from 2012‒13, the researchers modeled how a growing district could get more of their students in front of their best teachers. By adding three students to the classroom of every teacher in the top performance quartile, while maintaining current class sizes for all other teachers, the district could offer bonuses of about $8,000 for those teachers taking on additional students. The bonuses would represent a 16 to 17 percent salary increase for those teachers.
Growing districts would have more opportunities for realignment of students than flat-growth districts, according to the study, but even districts that aren’t growing could free up funds for bonuses over time through staffing adjustments and enrollment management (e.g., increasing enrollment capacity at some schools).
But other researchers, including a professor of education at Penn State University, contend that the Georgetown report lacks empirical evidence to support the findings. Some of the criticisms levied include that districts have difficulty reliably identifying their most effective teachers, and that bonuses don’t offset poor working conditions, so more focus should be given to more wholesale change.
The Edunomics study is not the only report to offer a conceptual shift in school staffing with the goal of getting more students into the classrooms of highly effective teachers. The education consulting firm Public Impact also has released some potential models that would revamp the workloads of the most effective teachers to expand their reach to more students.
(Editor’s note: Cypress-Fairbanks ISD did not actively participate in this research.) 

Increased academic ability of teachers may signal improved quality

“He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.” This phrase, from George Bernard Shaw’s 1903 play Man and Superman, is viewed by many as a criticism of the teaching profession, portraying it as second best. Two new studies might help to refute that criticism.
Research indicates that teacher quality exerts the strongest influence on student achievement, above all other in-school variables. There’s good news for New York State, where a longitudinal study by Luke C. Miller concluded that the college entrance exam scores of teachers entering the profession in the past two decades are on the rise. “We find increasing academic ability of individuals entering teaching,” Miller said. “We believe this is a signal that the status of the teaching profession is changing.”

Raising the bar

Beginning in the late 1990s, New York State implemented policies that targeted the selection of individuals entering the teaching profession with the goal of improving teacher quality. During roughly the same time period, Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores for newly certified and newly hired teachers showed large improvement. Scores in 2010 were more than 25 percent higher than scores in 1999.
A 2013 study by Dan Goldhaber and Joseph Walsh found that the average SAT percentile ranking of U.S. teachers increased from 42 in 2001 to 50 by 2009. They also found that prior to 2009, there was a strong negative relationship between academic ability and the decision to choose a teaching career. By 2009, the relationship was insignificant, suggesting that more academically able college students were preparing to teach.
During this same time period, there has been an increased emphasis on student achievement in federal, state, and local policy, initiated by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). States have increased the requirements to obtain teacher certification to prevent unqualified people from entering the profession and ensure that all core academic subject teachers are highly qualified.
New York was ahead of the curve, implementing these initiatives almost four years before the federal Highly Qualified Teacher provision of NCLB was authorized (January 2002). 

Academic quality rising 

The data from the New York State study shows that the average academic quality of teacher applicants improved from 1999 to 2010. In 1999, 43 percent of newly hired teachers in New York City were in the bottom third of the SAT distribution. By 2010, only 24 percent of newly hired teachers were in the bottom third. Conversely, in 1999, 21 percent of NYC teachers had SAT scores in the top third of the SAT distribution. By 2010, 40 percent were in the top third. The results for New York State are, on average, a softened version of the results for New York City.
So does the implementation of policies to improve teacher quality correlate with the improvement in test scores among new teachers? In other words, is raising the standards for individuals to enter educator programs leading to a higher percentage of academically able individuals included in the test results? Or, can we interpret the gains as evidence that the status of the teaching profession is improving?
New York State’s teacher results are consistent with the implementation policies designed to improve teacher quality. Perhaps raising the bar for individuals entering the teaching profession in other states will bring about similar improvements, with the ultimate goal of increasing student achievement.
—“New Teachers’ Academic Ability on the Rise, N.Y. Study Shows,” by Sarah D. Sparks, Education Week online, March 3, 2015.

A stronger economy may make district vacancies tougher to fill

The U.S. labor market has shown “sustained strength,” with employers continuing to add jobs and the unemployment rate dropping to 5.5 percent in February, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Texas has even fewer people out of work, with an unemployment rate of 4.2 percent.
The good economic news doesn’t stop there. A new Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) survey notes that job prospects for college graduates have improved significantly. Seventy-one percent of survey respondents said that their organizations plans to hire 2015 college graduates, up from 53 percent in 2013, and starting salaries are also on the rise.
The strong economy has a downside for hiring managers: Some of your veteran employees may be thinking about their next job. According to Jobvite’s 2015 Job Seeker Nation Survey, 60 percent of the more than 2,000 workers surveyed were equally or more optimistic about job opportunities at the end of 2014 compared to 2013. Also, 45 percent would take a new job even though they are happy in their current position. The improved economy “…is having concrete results for job seekers,” according to Jobvite CEO Dan Finnigan. “Now they have more options, everywhere they look.”
For recruiters, the robust job market paired with the sharp increase in hiring of new college graduates will likely mean more vacancies to fill and fewer job candidates for many openings. And no industry is exempt. Fifty-one percent of respondents in education said they were satisfied with their current job but also open to a new one.
The primary reason most would consider another job is money, but a job’s location is also important.
Finnigan advises employers to cast a wider net to find the talent they need, and that includes using social and mobile technology platforms. “Ignoring these platforms isn’t an option; companies must showcase their brand and be everywhere job seekers are,” Finnigan said.

Meeting expectations

Job seekers are increasingly reliant on mobile technology, and want to be able to apply for jobs using their devices. To give you some perspective on how pervasive the use of mobile technology is, consider these tidbits:
  • Forty-seven percent have conducted a job search from bed
  • Thirty-eight percent have searched during their daily commute
  • Thirty-six percent have searched at a restaurant
  • Thirty percent have searched at work
  • Twenty-one percent have searched during a meeting
This is the sixth year of Jobvite’s survey.

Inside HR Services

No Model Employee Handbook update in May

Following a review of the contents of our Model Employee Handbook (MEH), we have determined that there are no changes that would require our annual update. A new version of the MEH is generally published in May. 
We will review the MEH again following the current legislative session. If an update is needed, a new version will be published in late summer and districts will be notified.

Q&A: Asking for teacher transcripts

Q: Are teachers required to submit official transcripts?

A: There is no requirement that a teacher provide a transcript. However, there are a number of practical reasons why districts ask for them. The transcript provides proof that the teacher has at least earned a bachelor’s degree. It also documents teachers’ courses of study, which allows the district to place highly qualified teachers in appropriate assignments.
Many districts require official transcripts. A transcript that comes to the district directly from the teacher’s college or university is usually considered an official transcript. It may be sent by U.S. mail, e-mail, or may be hand-delivered in a sealed envelope. HR Services usually recommends that districts ask for an official transcript to minimize the likelihood of someone altering the document.
Districts may accept a transcript in any format that satisfies the district’s comfort level, including a photo copy or a faxed copy.
Districts often ask if they are required to retain the official transcript when an employee leaves the district. When an employee leaves, either the official transcript or a copy may be retained, or, if the district chooses, returned (districts are not obligated to return them). HR administrators should establish a procedure that specifies whether official transcripts will be returned and the process employees must follow to request them when they leave the district.

HR Extras

Federal, state agencies target independent contractor misclassification

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has been waging an aggressive campaign to bring an end to independent contractor misclassification for some time. It has ramped up its efforts through a new level of cooperation between state and federal agencies. The U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Misclassification Initiative has established memorandums of understanding with other agencies to share information in an effort to reduce the incidence of employee misclassification.
Misclassification of employees as independent contractors can result in employers failing to withhold taxes; complete I-9s; cover employee benefits such as health insurance, retirement, and workers’ compensation; and pay overtime. To avoid getting caught in the trap, school districts should analyze the facts at the beginning of the work relationship.
Some indications that a worker is an employee and not an independent contractor are the following:
  • The employer controls how the work is done or the hours of work.
  • The employer provides the workspace, materials, tools (e.g., telephone, e-mail), and training needed to perform the job.
  • The worker performs work that is integral to the employer’s business or there are other workers on the employer’s payroll who do the same job.
  • The worker participates in staff meetings and celebrations and is subject to workplace rules for requesting time off or reporting absences.
  • The worker has not set him or herself up as an independent business that advertises services, works for multiple organizations, provides the tools and equipment necessary to do the job, and invoices clients on a per-project basis for services performed.
  • The relationship between the employer and the worker is long-term and ongoing.
Additional information on independent contractors is available in the Employment section of the HR Library.

Socorro ISD named ‘District of Distinction’ for new teacher mentor program

Having a good mentor can make all the difference to a new teacher. Socorro ISD was recently honored for its effort to support new teachers. In 2014, the district started the Building a Friend for the Future (BFF): New Teacher Induction and Mentorship Program to train and retain new teachers.
The program began in the summer, with nearly 50 new teachers and 40 mentors meeting for a week of professional development focused on state and federal education guidelines, the district’s grading system, school safety, intervention practices, using electronic resources, and other topics.
During the school year, new teachers meet with their mentors once a month for eight sessions to develop their skills at lesson planning, instructional practice, collaborative learning, and more.
District Administration magazine recently named Socorro ISD a ‘District of Distinction’ for the innovation and success of this initiative. The district was one of 62 to receive the honor in March. “Building strong, one-to-one relationships among teachers and students will inspire a great dynamic that can produce phenomenal results in the classroom,” said Superintendent José Espinoza.

Until new FML forms are issued, districts should use expired forms

HR administrators may be aware that the Department of Labor’s (DOL) Family and Medical Leave Act forms were set to expire on February 28, 2015, and on March 1, 2015 there were no new forms.
The DOL subsequently extended the expiration date to March 31, 2015, and now until April 30, 2015. It is a safe assumption that the forms will be granted another 30-day reprieve, and will be set to expire on May 31, 2015.
The reason for having an expiration date that appears to be impermanent is this: the Department of Labor (DOL) is required to submit its forms every three years to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review. The OMB reviews the forms to ensure the information requested and the estimated time employers spend on responding to the request is accurate. Because the forms are still under OMB review, the DOL is allowed to use the older forms.
One expected change is a disclaimer added to the model medical certification instructing health care providers to not collect or provide any genetic information related to an employee’s serious health condition, since that is prohibited under the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act (GINA). TASB’s model FML form, Certification of Health Care Provider for Employee’s Serious Health Condition, already includes the GINA Nondisclosure Notice.
Once new FML forms are approved by the OMB, TASB HR Services will update the appropriate forms in the HR Library. One final reminder: employers are not required to use the DOL’s FML forms. They are provided as a guide to employers.