Getting a handle on new legislation affecting school HR operations

Determining what school HR administrators need to know about new legislation in the wake of a legislative session is always a challenge. The 84th session of the Texas Legislature was no different.
School HR administrators should particularly note new legislation on the rights of exempt staff to take breaks to express breast milk, attempts to strengthen the quality of teacher preparation candidates that may exacerbate teacher shortages, new language with regard to educator misconduct reporting, and a budget that does little to solve the state’s school finance problems.

Modest budget increase

The budget for the biennium (fiscal years 2016 and 2017) didn’t provide much good news for Texas public schools. Funding for public education was increased $1.5B and the basic, per-pupil allotment was increased from $5,040 to $5,140. This modest increase will only bring about 90 percent of districts back to the state funding level they had in 2011. At the same time, districts will have to pick up the tab for an additional 1.5 percent contribution to employees’ retirement.
The budget did fund new training academies for public school educators who teach reading, and math (SB 925 and 934, respectively) to K‒3 students. The education commissioner must adopt criteria for selecting teachers to attend and those selected may receive a stipend. The intent of the laws is to improve early reading and math instruction. Another training academy to provide reading comprehension instruction (SB 972) for 4th- and 5th-grade students was also funded.
This budget restored funding ($1.5M over the biennium) for tuition scholarships for educational aides seeking teaching degrees. This program was cut entirely in 2011.
The legislature elected not to increase the state’s contribution to TRS-ActiveCare, instead declaring that a joint interim committee will study TRS-ActiveCare rates in the interim (HB 2974). Also to be studied at the request of districts is the effect of allowing them to opt out of TRS-ActiveCare or setting rates by region. Districts that opt in are not given that option currently and some have noted that private health premium rates in their area are lower than TRS’ rates. Reports on these issues are due by Jan. 15, 2017.

Effective immediately

HB 218—Changing the certification requirements for teachers of bilingual classes

This law is an attempt to help districts deal with bilingual teacher shortages. It specifies that English as a Second Language-certified teachers be allowed to teach the English components of bilingual programs that use a dual-language immersion/one-way or two-way models. Bilingual teachers must teach the non-English program components. 

HB 2186—Relating to suicide prevention training for public school educators

This law requires school districts and open enrollment charter schools to provide suicide prevention training on an annual basis at new-hire orientation and for existing educators on a schedule adopted by the Texas Education Agency (TEA). The Department of State Health Services must recommend a best practice-based program in coordination with TEA. 

Effective Sept. 1, 2015:

HB 786—Providing all public employees with the right to express breast milk in the workplace

This law extends to all employees the right to express breast milk at work. The Fair Labor Standards Act had already extended that right to nonexempt employees. 
Districts must do the following:
  • Offer all employees, including teachers, “reasonable” breaks to express breast milk. There is no definition in the law of what constitutes “reasonable” breaks in terms of either break length or frequency.
  • Base break intervals on the needs of each employee. 
  • Provide a place other than a public restroom for employees to express breast milk. The location has to be “shielded from view and free from intrusion.” 
  • Have a written statement, most likely in the employee handbook, that states the district supports the practice of expressing breast milk and will make reasonable accommodations to meet employee needs. (Editor’s note: This provision will be included in the July 2015 update to our Model Employee Handbook.)
  • Protect the employment rights of breastfeeding mothers, who should not be suspended, terminated, or discriminated against because they assert their rights to take breaks for this purpose.

HB 1783—Reporting educator criminal history or misconduct to SBEC; giving school employees the right to report crimes directly to law enforcement

This law requires open-enrollment charter school directors to report educator misconduct to the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC).
The most important change this law makes is that it creates a new standard of reporting to SBEC with regard to employee misconduct. Superintendents and charter directors are now required to report to SBEC whenever an educator’s employment is terminated based on evidence that the educator engaged in misconduct. The law previously required districts to report misconduct when they made a determination that an educator engaged in misconduct. 
Doug Phillips, director of educator investigations at the Texas Education Agency, said his office was asked to help develop the new language by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D‒McAllen). The end result is an attempt to make it clear that school administrators should report to TEA whenever they have evidence that an educator engaged in misconduct, even if it’s not conclusive. Phillips believes the old language created a loophole since administrators often don’t catch educators in the act, so to speak. “If there’s any question, just report it to us, and we’ll figure it out,” Phillips said. “Shift the burden to us and away from you.” 
The law also requires superintendents or directors of charter schools to report to SBEC if an educator resigns and evidence exists that he or she engaged in misconduct. Superintendents and charter school directors are also required to complete an investigation of an educator based on evidence that the educator may have engaged in misconduct.
The law also changes the timeline to report misconduct to SBEC. Superintendents or charter school directors are required to report within seven days of when they know of a reportable incident. Previous law required reporting within seven days of when a superintendent or charter director first learned of an educator’s criminal record, termination, or resignation.
Right of school employees to report crimes. This law gives school employees the right to report a crime they have witnessed at school to any peace officer with authority to investigate. Districts are prohibited from adopting a policy requiring an employee to refrain from reporting crimes or reporting criminal activity only to specified school employees or peace officers.
The law also expands the persons subject to the Misuse of Official Information offense in the Texas Penal code section 39.06. Now, school administrators (not just principals, as previously specified) are prohibited from coercing others into suppressing or failing to report information to a law enforcement agency.

HB 2205—Changes current law related to SBEC, educator certification, educator preparation programs, teaching permits, and educator investigations

This law’s statement of intent is to strengthen standards and hold educator preparation programs accountable for the quality of teacher training. It decreases the minimum grade-point average (GPA) for admission to educator preparation programs from 2.75 to 2.5 on a 4.0 scale, but requires that the overall GPA of each incoming class can’t be less than 3.0 on a 4.0 scale for all educator preparation entities. It also increases the hours of required field-based experience.
Of concern is a new limitation on the number of times a person can take any certification exam. Any exam can be attempted four times, unless SBEC waives the limit for good cause. Those who take certification exams before Sept. 1, 2015, can retake them up to four times after that date. Some school HR administrators are concerned that this new limit will create shortages of EC‒6 core content teachers and bilingual teachers.
Some of the law’s other provisions are as follows:
  • It requires SBEC to establish accountability rules for educator preparation programs. SBEC must develop rules to sanction programs that don’t meet accreditation standards under the accountability system.
  • It requires more program quality information to be made available, including the ratio of field supervisors, the rate of employment for first-year graduates, and results of graduate satisfaction surveys.
  • It allows the education commissioner to issue a subpoena in the course of an educator misconduct investigation. This will allow TEA investigators to get documents that are not redacted from school districts.
  • It allows school boards to issue school district teaching permits to qualified people who don’t have bachelor’s degrees to teach Career and Technology Education courses. 

SB 674—Instruction regarding mental health, substance abuse, and youth suicide in educator training programs

This law amends the education code to improve the instruction provided to prospective educators with regard to mental health, substance abuse, and youth suicide in their preservice training. The goal is to help educators detect and steer toward treatment students with mental or addictive disorders. 

HB 3373—Liability of reimbursing employers under the Texas Unemployment Compensation Act

The intent of this law is to limit employer liability under the Texas Unemployment Compensation Act. The law closed a loophole to ensure that employers who reimburse the Texas Workforce Commission for benefits paid from the unemployment compensation fund are not liable for faulty claims. 
In the past, when an employee quit a job in a school district to take another job, then subsequently lost that job, the school district would sometimes be held liable for paying unemployment, even though it wasn’t the last employer. This law should eliminate that problem.  

HB 2974—Related to TRS systems and programs

This law revises the method for determining the surcharge imposed on a district that rehires a retiree. TRS will now set a single rate applicable to all retirees, taking into account the amount of the state’s contribution. The new law eliminates the requirement that districts determine each retiree’s surcharge based on the level of coverage and other factors. 
The law also clarifies that an individual must be employed on at least a half-time basis by a single employer to be eligible for membership. Employment with more than one employer cannot be combined to establish membership in TRS.

HB 445—Providing notice of the availability of paid leave for military service to public officers and employees

This law was intended to reduce confusion about entitlement to paid state military leave. Districts will be required to give written notice at the time of employment of the number of work days of paid military leave available to employees who are in the Texas National Guard, Texas State Guard, the U.S. Armed Forces reserves, or a state or federal Urban Search and 
Rescue Team. The notice could be included in the district’s employee handbook and in board policy. (Editor’s note: This notice will be included in our July 2015 update to the Model Employee Handbook.)
Districts must also provide those employees with a summary of the number of paid military days used in a year on request.

HB 664—Allowing employers to terminate employees who falsify their records by claiming they were members of the military

The law allows employers to fire employees who falsify or otherwise misrepresent their military record to get a job or benefits related to that job. School districts should note that this law applies to all employees, including those on contracts. It does not eliminate Chapter 21 protections, so school districts would have to follow the normal procedure for terminating a contract employee.

HB 2014—Allowing military personnel to obtain certification to teach career and technology education (CTE) classes in public schools

H.B. 2014 amends current law relating to the authority of military personnel to obtain certification to teach career and technology education classes in public schools. This law’s intent is to provide a “reasonable pathway” for current military members and veterans with experience as welders, mechanics, and equipment maintenance workers to receive certification to allow them to teach CTE classes in public schools without having to obtain an occupational license. Other alternative certification programs for veterans exist, but many don’t satisfy CTE program requirements. 

SB 1309—Changing the eligibility requirements to issue teaching certificates to Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) instructors

This law amends the Texas Education Code to allow a person who has a JROTC instructor teaching certification from any branch of the U.S. military to obtain a standard teaching certificate. Its intent was to provide a career pathway to teaching or campus administration for veterans and eliminate the fees districts pay for emergency permits for JROTC instructors. 
To obtain a certificate, a person must hold a bachelor’s degree, be a certified JROTC instructor, and complete an approved educator preparation program. JROTC instructors are not required to hold a JROTC teaching certificate to be employed by a school district but do require an emergency permit.
To obtain principal certification, the law specifies that state-certified JROTC teachers hold classroom teaching permits and that their years of district employment count as creditable years of teaching experience.
The law goes into effect Sept. 1, 2015, but SBEC is charged with proposing rules to establish the certificate by Jan. 1, 2016.

SB 107—Designating campus behavior coordinators 

This law requires that the principal or another campus administrator selected by the principal be designated the campus behavior coordinator to consider a the actions of a student prior to removing him or her from class (the student’s discipline history, intent, whether he or she acted in self-defense, and whether he or she had the ability to determine that the act was wrong). The intent of the law is to strengthen oversight of behavior management and make removal of students more discretionary.

National criminal history info will soon be available to Texas schools

The Q&A that follows focuses on a new development in criminal history records access for school administrators. Texas school districts will soon have continuous access to the criminal records of their employees when they are out of state.
According to the FBI, the agency will soon provide “rap back” service to notify authorized agencies (school districts) of any criminal activity of their employees that occurs outside of Texas after they are hired and their initial criminal records are processed.
Don Farris, Jr., the manager of the Access and Dissemination Bureau, part of the Texas Department of Public Safety’s Crime Records Service, was kind enough to answer our questions on this topic.
Q: I understand school administrators will soon have access to up-to-date, national criminal history information on school employees. Can you tell me when that will be the case?

A: Late 2015 to early 2016.
Q: Are school districts required to have HR administrators participate in training prior to the rollout of national “rap back” reports (indicating arrests in other states)?

A: The national “rap back” functionality will be similar to what is in place in Texas already. DPS is working on an instructional guide now and it should be available in July. In addition, we plan to create an online training module for FBI rap backs.
Q: Will the FBI “rap back” system be difficult to use?

A: Administrators are able to use the Texas rap back system now, so they will not have difficulty with FBI rap backs. We will have personnel available to assist those with questions and online training will be available.
Q: Do school HR administrators have to do anything special to get this additional rap back information?

A: Administrators will have to let DPS know they want to participate in FBI rap back.
Also, administrators have to agree to keep their accounts current by reviewing monthly verification lists sent by DPS and unsubscribing personnel who are no longer employed by their school districts. That step is critical because it is against the law to view the criminal history of someone who is no longer employed by the district. Also, the FBI will periodically audit districts to ensure that their lists only include current employees. Districts that don’t unsubscribe people who are no longer employed could run the risk of losing access to all national “rap back” information.
Q: How will they receive rap backs?

A: Email notification will arrive on a subscribed individual. The administrator will need to access the account and review the information. This is similar to how Texas rap back works today.
Q: Will there be a cost for this additional information?

A: Right now, there is a fee of $13 per employee subscribed. However, the FBI is reconsidering that fee after hearing concerns about the cost from potential subscribers.
(Editor’s note: DPS doesn’t expect the FBI to make a decision on the fee per employee until 2016. Districts that are interested in subscribing to the service should consider waiting until that final fee has been set. The cost may not change, but if it does, the FBI isn’t going to offer refunds for districts that choose to subscribe earlier.)
Q: Is that an ongoing cost or a one-time fee? 

A: It is a one-time, “lifetime fee.” However, if you let a subscription expire or do not validate lists from DPS, you will have to pay the $13 again to resubscribe. List validation will be very important. DPS and the FBI want to ensure all entities are maintaining accurate subscriptions due to statutory authority.
Q: Are school HR administrators likely to be surprised by the amount of new criminal history information from out-of-state sources when the rap backs start? 

A: I don’t believe they will be surprised…more likely they will be relieved that the additional information they receive will help them make the best judgment for suitability to work in a school. Also, each time a subscription is created, a new FBI rap sheet will be returned, so there will be a higher volume of FBI rap sheets.
Q: If school administrators have questions, who should they call?

A: Please contact the Fingerprint Services Unit at 512-424-2365 or


New NCES study offers far less dire view of teacher attrition

For years, a prevalent study has led researchers to believe that teacher attrition is at abysmal levels, with estimates of up to 40 to 50 percent of teachers leaving the profession within their first five years. The estimate came from work by education researcher Richard Ingersoll, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
However, federal data recently released by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) shows that new teachers are far less likely to leave the profession than previously reported.
The NCES’s Beginning Teacher Longitudinal Study (BTLS) had a research-based approach, and sought to learn pertinent data surrounding the first five years of a teacher’s career. The study tracked public school teachers who began teaching in 2007‒08 school year. Among this group, 10 percent did not teach in 2008‒09, 12 percent did not teach in 2009‒10, 15 percent did not teach in 2010‒11, and 17 percent did not teach in 2011‒12.

NCES’ conclusion that just 17 percent of all teachers leave the profession in the first five years is certainly at odds with Ingersoll’s research. Ingersoll offers several explanations for the differing conclusions, including that his earlier conclusion was a “crude approximation” because no one had tracked a cohort of new teachers over time to see how long they remained in the classroom. The NCES study did that.
Ingersoll also believes the new numbers may be lower because of differences in the studies. His study focused on public and private school teachers and followed teachers through five full years of teaching. The NCES study concludes after the fourth year of teaching.
Other factors may have influenced teachers’ decisions to remain in the classroom. For example, the NCES study began tracking teachers as the economy went into a recession, which may have caused more teachers to remain in their jobs. Teacher working conditions may also have improved since 2001, when Ingersoll published his initial study. More recent education reforms might also have contributed to higher teacher retention. “I certainly would hope that the reason the rates were lower is because so many of these reforms have hit pay dirt and we’re improving things. But the truth is, we do not know that,” Ingersoll said in an interview with The Washington Post.
What makes the study by NCES so beneficial in comparison to Ingersoll’s study is that the data centered on why teachers are leaving the profession. Key findings give clues that may help administrators positively impact teacher retention.

Salary matters 

Teachers with higher starting salaries were more likely to continue teaching than their peers at the bottom of the pay scale. For example, 97 percent of teachers with a starting salary of $40,000 or more continued, whereas only 87 percent of those with a starting salary below $40,000 returned the next year. This trend continued through the 2011‒12 school year, where 89 percent of beginning teacher above $40,000 continued compared to 80 percent continuing for those making less than $40,000.

Mentors make a difference

The percentage of beginning teachers who continued in the profession was larger among those who were assigned a mentor during their first year. In 2008‒09, 92 percent of those assigned a mentor continued on, compared to 89 percent of those without a mentor. This trend continued through the 2011‒12 school year with 86 percent of those with a mentor returning compared to 71 percent of those without.
A survey released in April 2014 by the National Network of State Teachers of the Year and the American Institutes for Research support these findings. The report indicates that 55 percent of new teachers listed “access to a mentor” as having the largest impact on developing their effectiveness as a teacher.

Leaving involuntarily

The proportion of teachers who leave the classroom involuntarily had an impact on the results. Twenty-seven percent of beginning teachers in 2008‒09 did not return the next school year for involuntary reasons, such as their contract not being renewed. 

Other details

  • Teachers who spend their first year in high-poverty schools are slightly more likely to leave.
  • A teacher’s educational attainment didn’t have much influence on his or her decision to stay or go. Teachers with master’s degrees were slightly more likely to remain after three years.
  • Teachers coming through alternative certification programs were slightly more likely to leave.
  • Men drop out of the profession faster than women.
  • Teachers who start their careers after the age of 30 are more likely to leave.
  • Through five years, school districts are slightly more likely to retain white teachers.

TRS-ActiveCare rates rise across the board for 2015‒16

The Teacher Retirement System of Texas recently announced new 2015‒16 plan rates for its three health insurance plans: TRS-ActiveCare 1-HD, TRS-ActiveCare Select, and TRS-ActiveCare 2. The rates of all three PPOs will rise by at least 7 percent, on average.
Looking at the plans in more detail, TRS-ActiveCare 1-HD and TRS-ActiveCare Select rates increased 5 percent for participants in the “Employee Only” plan. While all other coverage tiers, such as spouse and family, increased 7.5 percent. For example, “Employee and Family” participants on TRS-ActiveCare 1-HD will see an annual increase of $1,032; the same tier for Select will see an annual increase of $1,116. Plan deductibles were not changed from 2014‒15 levels.
TRS-ActiveCare Select was introduced by Aetna last year as a middle-of-the-road plan between TRS-ActiveCare 1-HD and TRS-ActiveCare 2. Aetna took over administration of TRS-ActiveCare plans and benefits in September 2014.

TRS-ActiveCare 2 saw the largest increases of the PPOs. Participants in the “Employee Only” plan will see rates climb more than 10 percent. The other coverage tiers are increasing approximately 14 percent, on average. “Employee and Family” participants will see an annual increase of more than $2,300.

TRS-ActiveCare 2 rates for “Employee Only” coverage were mostly steady from 2003 through 2008 but have increased every year since then. Although TRS-ActiveCare 1-HD has only been around since 2009, its “Employee Only” monthly premium has increased nearly every year, except last year.

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HMOs offered under TRS-ActiveCare experienced varied rate increases. Allegian participants will see the lowest increases, approximately 3 percent on average, while Scott & White participants will see the largest average increase (11 percent). FirstCare participants will see increases of 7 percent on average.
It is a similar story nationwide. Health care insurers across the U.S. expect sharper premium increases through 2015 and 2016, according to the Society for Human Resource Management regarding the Spring Healthcare Trend Survey from Wells Fargo Insurance. The survey of more than 65 insurance companies nationwide finds that medical claim costs have risen 7.9 percent for PPOs and 7.2 percent for HMOs in 2015, key indicators of coming premium rate increases.

PPACA affordability issues

The rate increase has rendered the least costly TRS plan “unaffordable” for the lowest-paid employees in some districts under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). The premium increase caused the minimum wage for affordability to jump from $8.10 to $9.33 per hour, using the rate of pay safe harbor, in districts that make the minimum maintenance-of-effort contribution ($225 per hour). We’ve written about the ACA’s affordability penalty in earlier issues of HR Exchange.
The affordability penalty would only apply if the district pays the minimum $225 maintenance-of-effort contribution to the health insurance costs of workers earning less than $9.33 per hour. School districts that pay more than the minimum can use the Affordability Calculator in the HR Library to determine whether the lowest wage they pay passes the affordability test.
It’s important to note that districts do not have to make the same maintenance-of-effort contribution to health insurance costs for all employees. District contributions may be at different rates as long as they treat everyone in the same category the same way and do not contribute more for the health insurance of the highest paid employees.
For example, a district could contribute $241 per month for all employees making less than $9.33 cents per hour. Alternatively, a district could contribute $241 per month for all custodians and child nutrition employees. Either option would ensure that they meet the ACA’s affordability rules.

Workers are more satisfied now than in the past five years

In April, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) released the findings of its latest Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement Survey. The survey showed 86 percent of employees are satisfied with their jobs, the highest percentage since 2009.

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Evren Esen, director of SHRM’s survey programs said, “We are moving away from a period of uncertainty.” As the economy becomes more stable, workers have the ability to find a career that fits their skill-set and desires, leading them to work where they want to work.
Engaged employees are committed to their organizations goals and values, motivated to contribute to the organization’s success, able to grow, and more productive than those who are unengaged. As a result, organizations with a more engaged workforce are more productive than organizations with an unengaged staff.
“Workers have shown an increased preference for understanding their role and how it aligns with the success of an organization,” said SRHM researcher Christina Lee. “What’s important to employees now is a collaborative environment that encourages feedback and interaction among coworkers and between employees and their supervisors.”  

Our employee engagement survey results

TASB HR Services has conducted 17 employee engagement surveys during the 2014‒15 school year. When reviewing employees’ responses regarding their own job satisfaction, they said the following factors are most important: 
  • Meaningful work
  • Liking their work
  • Understanding what is expected
  • Feeling good about their accomplishments
  • Relationships with coworkers
  • Compensation and benefits
  • Opportunities to use their skills and abilities
Note that compensation and benefits was not the most important factor mentioned by school district employees. This means districts can improve engagement (and possibly employee morale) without increasing the budget. Pay is still important, but workplace culture could play a larger role than originally thought. Workers now have more job opportunities, so cultivating positive relationships with coworkers and supervisors is important.
Other important factors in fostering a positive work environment are employee wellness and allowing employees to partake in meaningful professional development. Employees who gain new skills and abilities will, in turn, use them in their careers and benefit the district. 

HR Extras

TEA announces two percent increase in state minimum teacher salary schedule

The state minimum teacher salary schedule will increase by 2 percent per year of experience for the 2015‒16 school year as a result of a change in the basic allotment funding. Annual pay rates increased by between $540 and $890 depending on years of experience, with each step increasing by 2 percent.
TASB’s annual salary survey for 2014‒15 found that only eight district respondents, employing 353 total teachers, still paid teachers according to the state minimum salary schedule. Districts are required to pay at least the state base monthly salary for a teacher’s creditable years of service. However, most Texas teachers are paid above the required schedule amounts. The weighted average Texas teacher salary for 2014‒15 was just more than $51,000, which is nearly $5,500 higher than the highest level salary on the state base scale.
The updated schedule is available on the TEA website and takes effect at the beginning of the 2015‒16 school year. 

TASPA names Benitez new executive director

The Texas Association of School Personnel Administrators (TASPA) recently announced that Rose Benitez has been named the organization’s new executive director and will assume her duties on July 1. Benitez will replace Melva Cárdenas, who is retiring.
Benitez retired after 27 years of Texas public education experience including 20 years in HR. She has worked in a variety of positions, including teacher, bilingual/ESL instructional supervisor, and in HR as an assistant superintendent, director, and recruiter in Alief, Cypress-Fairbanks, and Houston ISDs. She also has a doctorate in educational administration.
Cárdenas will work with Benitez through the transition.

TASPA reaches new membership milestone

In late May, TASPA executive director Melva Cárdenas announced that the organization has reached a new membership milestone, surpassing the 1,000 member mark. Cárdenas thanked members for their continued support.

TASB Legal Services publishes frequently asked questions on nepotism

TASB Legal Services recently published an updated set of frequently asked questions called Conflicts of Interest: Nepotism on its School Law eSource Website. The document helps school administrators understand and avoid hiring decisions that could result in nepotism in their district.

ETS practice teacher certification tests available online

ETS offers interactive, online practice tests for prospective educators. These are full-length, practice tests that include correct answers, explanations for correct answers, and a score summary report.
Practice tests available include the following:
  • TExES Pedagogy and Professional  Responsibilities EC‒12
  • Mathematics 7‒12
  • Science 7‒12
  • Bilingual Target Language Proficiency Test Spanish
Many districts hire teachers who have yet to earn certification or have teachers who want to add an additional certification. HR can direct staff to the ETS Website to help them prepare for the test. The practice exams simulate what will happen when they take the actual test, giving test takers valuable feedback on their preparedness.

Out-of-state teachers with valid certificates can fill Oklahoma teaching jobs

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin recently signed a law allowing the state’s board of education to issue a teaching certificate to anyone with an out-of-state certificate who meets highly qualified requirements. The new law was intended to help Oklahoma fill around 1,000 classroom vacancies, but few think it will succeed.
The change is not likely to result in significant teacher attrition in Texas because Oklahoma’s teacher salaries are substantially lower than those offered here. “I can’t see a teacher from Texas or somewhere else come across state lines to take a $10,000 pay cut even if you are qualified,” said Wilson Public Schools Superintendent Eric Smith. 

DOL publishes new FMLA forms

The Department of Labor (DOL) recently published updated FMLA notices and certification forms. The long-awaited model forms have a 2018 expiration date.
TASB HR Services also updated the sample FMLA notices and forms in our HR Library. The HR Library’s FMLA notices and forms are available in Microsoft Word, allowing school districts to customize them as necessary. 

Inside HR Services

Superintendent Salary Survey launches in July

Ready! Set! Go! We kick off the annual salary survey season with the launch of the TASB/TASA Superintendent Salary Survey. On July 21, an invitation to the online questionnaire will be e-mailed to school district superintendents. The due date to submit your superintendent salary data is Aug. 28.

The survey takes a comprehensive look at the compensation and benefits of Texas’ top school executives. Make the most of your HR Services membership by taking part in this one-of-a-kind survey. Districts that submit data can use DataCentral to create valuable market comparison reports. Contact us at 800.580.7782 or by e-mail at if you have any questions about the survey.

Update your HR Services contact information

Each year we provide you with an opportunity to update your district contacts and online user information. Our goal is to ensure that you continue to receive HR Services news, information, and event announcements. In mid-June, HR Services sent each program contact a list of the information we have on file for their district. Please be sure to review the information and confirm that it’s correct, or make the necessary changes, additions, and deletions, and return the form to us at by July 1.

Connect with us at the TASPA Summer Conference

Please stop by the HR Services’ display at the Texas Association of School Personnel Administrators (TASPA) Summer Conference on July 16–17, 2015. Information about our services and products will be available, along with a list of dates for our Austin workshops and webinars. HR Services staff will also present the following sessions:
Thursday, July 16
  • Making Data Central to Your Success, 10 to 11 a.m.
  • Modern Family (and Medical Leave Act), 1:10 to 2:10 p.m.
  • Using Data to Improve HR—A Guide for Philosophy (Not Math) Majors, 2:20 to 3:20 p.m.
  • Managing Payroll between HR and Finance Staff, 3:30 to 4:15 p.m.
Friday, July 17
  • Teacher Pay—Envision a Better Way, 8:30 to 9:30 a.m.

Get the latest data on supplemental pay rates in DataCentral 

Find supplemental hourly pay rates for a variety of teacher, summer school, and non-teacher substitute duties. To participate and view the results, visit HR Surveys in DataCentral.

Welcome to our newest data analyst

Please join us in welcoming our Taylor Clark to the HR Services team. She will assist with the analysis of salary survey data and provide analytical support for consulting services. Prior to joining TASB, Taylor worked as a credit analyst for a major banking institution in Houston. She grew up in North Austin and graduated from Texas A&M University with a bachelor’s degree in finance.

Q&A: Documenting an employee’s declination of health coverage

Q: How do we document that an employee has declined an offer of health insurance coverage?

A: Large employers—those with 50 or more full-time employees—face substantial penalties under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) if they don’t offer insurance to at least 95 percent of their full-time employees. As transition relief, the IRS has reduced the threshold to 70 percent for the 2015 plan year. Defending against these penalties requires documentation of offering health insurance coverage, specifically documenting which employees were offered coverage but declined.
The IRS has offered scant guidance on how to document offers of coverage, referring employers to “generally applicable substantiation and recordkeeping requirements.” Holly Murphy, senior attorney with the Texas Association of School Boards, offers this advice: “Have employees use the enrollment form for your district’s health insurance. Every enrollment form has a place for the employee to decline coverage.”
The enrollment form offers several advantages, according to Murphy. For one thing, the district doesn’t have to create a special form. For another, completing the enrollment form protects the employee from a loss of other coverage during the plan year. Employees often decline coverage because they have insurance through another source, such as a spouse’s insurance. Loss of other coverage is a ‘special enrollment event’ and the employee can enroll in the district’s insurance in the middle of the plan year, but only if the employee used the enrollment form to decline coverage.
A third benefit for districts that participate in TRS-ActiveCare is that the enrollment form provides a central source of data for ACA reporting. In fact, WellSystems, the TRS-ActiveCare third-party administrator, is now requiring that all employees either accept or decline coverage. When an employee declines enrollment through the WellSystems portal (Mesa), WellSystems becomes a repository for that data. At the end of the calendar year, the district can generate a census report that will reflect those who declined as well as those who enrolled.
Using WellSystems to document the employees declining coverage is a new concept for districts. Tracking down every employee to ensure that he or she went online and completed the process means more work and more headaches in the short run, but districts should see a payoff in the long run. “If the IRS shows up on the district’s doorstep, that electronic report will be a godsend,” said Murphy.