Districts of Innovation and HR

By Amy Campbell

Almost 80 districts across the state have proposed or approved exemptions to Texas Education Code that allow many flexibilities to open enrollment charter schools in the state, and dozens more districts have plans in various stages of development.

This concept, known as District of Innovation, was passed into law as a result of House Bill 1842 in the 84th Legislative Session, which created Texas Education Code (TEC) chapter 12A.

To become a District of Innovation, a school district must be rated at least acceptable in its most recent academic performance rating and complete a specific process as outlined in the TASB Legal Services guide. Legal Services also provides guidance about writing plans to address specific exemptions. While the Texas Education Agency (TEA) does not have approval authority for District of Innovation plans, districts that have proposed innovation plans are required to notify TEA, which must report to the Legislature about school districts’ statutory exemptions.

Of the innovation plans already approved or in the final stages of approval, some exemption trends have emerged, and many relate directly to HR. Following is a brief description of each of the most common HR-related exemptions found in current innovation plans, as well as how the exemptions may impact HR.

School start date/calendar changes

Nearly all of the innovation plans include some exemption from current instructional calendar requirements in TEC, and most relate specifically to school start date. Denison ISD’s innovation plan included only one exemption—to the uniform start date (TEC §25.0811). The superintendent of DISD, Dr. Henry Scott, said his district chose to be exempt from this law with two goals in mind:

1) The flexibility to start the school year earlier will allow them to end their first semester prior to the winter break.

2) They want to be able to end their school year before Memorial Day.

Most districts echo Dr. Scott’s assessment and say they can better balance the days of instruction in the first and second semesters and provide additional instructional days before STAAR testing by allowing school to start earlier than the fourth Monday in August. Many also cite meeting the needs of their local communities and improving district attendance rates through this added calendar flexibility.

HR impact: Because changes in student calendars clearly will impact teacher work schedules, HR will need to ensure all necessary updates to teacher calendars are made and provided to teachers in advance. However, since most districts approve calendars in January or February of each year, such changes may already be in the works for the next school year.

One potential issue HR staff may encounter is employee morale issues if the district has made a significant shift in start date for the next school year (e.g., one or two weeks earlier than previous). This will result in a shortened summer break in the first year of implementation, which could lead to some teachers feeling like their vacation was cut short.

Teacher certification

The second most common HR-related exemption is to TEC §21.003, which requires all school district teachers be certified in accordance with State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) rules. Nearly 80 percent of district innovation plans include this exemption. Many of these districts specifically mention wanting to avoid the bureaucratic processes currently bothering them, such as submitting a request to TEA for individuals teaching a subject outside of their certification or creating a local teaching certificate.

Many districts want to hire career and technology (CTE) teachers with vocational experience while avoiding the prescribed processes and instead seek only superintendent approval. Some districts also have specifically exempted themselves from the requirement to notify parents in writing when their child’s teacher is teaching a class outside their certification area, opting instead to allow the board’s approval of the teacher’s hire in open session to serve as formal notification. However, TASB Legal Services cautions that districts receiving Title I funds are still required under federal law to notify parents of uncertified teachers.

Kaufman ISD’s innovation plan includes a detailed explanation for their exemption, including a process in which campus principals can exercise the flexibility granted by the exemption.

“Our first choice will always be a highly trained, certified teacher with a heart for kids, and Kaufman ISD is full of them,” Dr. Lori Blaylock, superintendent of KISD, said. “However, we have encountered situations where desirable certified teachers are not available in the short term. The Kaufman ISD Innovation Plan was developed to provide legal options and local control to address those types of situations. In my experience, it is sometimes better to fill a vacancy with a quality educated individual who loves kids but is still working on certification rather than a certified applicant that cannot respect and engage the students of today.”

If a district has exempted itself from TEC §21.003 with the intent of only exempting certification requirements for certain teaching assignments, the district’s local policy should fill in the gap by clearly stating all other instructional staff are required to hold valid SBEC certificates and will receive Chapter 21 contracts in accordance with law and policy, according to TASB Legal Services.

HR impact: In most districts, HR currently is responsible for verifying, recording, and tracking teacher certification, and that won’t change with this exemption. However, HR may need to adjust its processes and recording mechanisms to accommodate the new flexibility granted by the exemption, including documenting what experience and credentials are acceptable for a non-certified person to become a teacher in the district.

HR staff also will need to be well-versed in which teaching assignments the district has exempted from certification requirements and which assignments will still require SBEC certificates, as required by federal law or dictated in local policy, and this information will need to be incorporated into job descriptions and job postings. Additionally, if the district opts to discontinue notifying parents or adopts a local, alternative standard for parental notification, this may change or reduce HR’s role in the process.

Educator appraisal

Nearly 30 percent of the proposed or approved innovation plans include an exemption from the current educator appraisal requirements, which require districts to adopt T-TESS or a comparable local alternative system.

Districts that have included an exemption from this portion of the TEC are seeking additional flexibility above that already provided in code and most plans explore creating a committee of educators to develop tools and procedures for evaluation that reflect local strengths, areas of concern, and goals. TASB Legal Services has cautioned districts who exempt themselves from appraisal statutes to consider adopting local policy to replace the statutory procedures.

HR impact: Developing a local appraisal system is a time-consuming process involving a broad spectrum of district staff. HR must be involved in the committee and may likely play a leadership role in development of a new system, including participating in instrument development, helping coordinate appraisal frequency and timing, and weighing in on issues such as appraisal technology and staffing and budget implications.

Probationary contracts

A quarter of district innovation plans include an exemption from TEC §21.102 requiring teachers who have taught the past five of eight years to only serve one year on a probationary contract. Hurst-Euless-Bedford (HEB) ISD included this exemption in its innovation plan, granting the district the option to extend a second year probationary contract if recommended by Human Resources and the campus administrator and approved by the Board of Trustees.

“An extension to a second-year probationary contract is to recognize that, at times, even experienced teachers new to the district need more than one year to learn the HEB Teaching and Learning system and the district’s Continuous Improvement model,” according to the district’s plan. “A one-year probationary period may not allow the teacher or the administrator time to evaluate the teacher’s capacity or ability to adopt the HEB ISD requirements.”

HR impact: HR staff will need to ensure local policy is updated to reflect the exemptions granted in a district’s local innovation plan. In districts like HEB that include an active HR role in these contract determination processes, HR staff may find themselves spending additional time on these decisions during contract renewal season.

Teacher contract days

Chapter 21 of the TEC currently requires all educator contracts to be for a minimum of 187 days of service. For many districts, the change to minutes of instruction for students resulted in compressed calendars, with students leaving school by Memorial Day. This created a disconnect between teacher work schedules and student schedules, with no legally acceptable way to compress teacher schedules to better match their students.

“With the teacher contract day exemption, we make our salaries more competitive by reducing the days worked (from 187 to 182), with no reduction in pay, therefore increasing a teacher’s daily rate,” Denise Anderson, superintendent of Bovina ISD, said. “We hope this plan will help in our teacher recruitment efforts.”

HR impact: HR staff in districts that are reducing teacher contract days will need to communicate clearly with their staff about the impact of the change. Will their salaries change? What will their work schedule be next year? HR staff also should incorporate the reduced work schedule into district recruiting materials.

Becoming a district of innovation allows ISDs many flexibilities from the ever-increasing number of state mandates. Given that many of the exemptions will have a direct impact on HR operations, HR staff need to be actively involved in coordinating and planning for implementation of changes.

How HR can help homeless students succeed

by Janelle Guillory

In 2014–15, Texas school districts identified 113,294 students as homeless at some point during the school year—or 2 percent of students. This number will likely reach 114,500 in 2016–17 based on enrollment. However, social policy researchers estimate that 10 percent of students below the poverty line will experience homelessness each year, and Texas has 1.7 million children living in poverty. This could mean that there are closer to 170,000 homeless students in Texas each year.
Title VII-B of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act is designed to address the problems that homeless children and youth have enrolling, attending, and succeeding in school. The act requires state education agencies and local districts to ensure that each homeless student has equal access to educational and other services they need. According to the act, homeless students are those who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.
HR’s role in ensuring the success of homeless students involves two issues—staffing and training.


The McKinney-Vento Act requires school districts to designate a single local homeless education liaison responsible for coordinating identification, services, and data reporting. In large districts, the liaison may be the head of a program serving homeless students, supported by caseworkers or administrative staff who connect families with local resources. In medium-sized districts, the liaison may be a social worker or school counselor, and there may or may not be any full-time staff to support them. However, in smaller districts (which most Texas districts are), liaison responsibilities can fall to a variety of people, from assistant superintendents and directors of curriculum to classroom teachers.
School districts also must provide services to homeless students who reside outside the district’s boundaries. This is because TEA allows that "a student experiencing homelessness may enroll in any district they choose, regardless of the location of their residence, school of origin, or attendance zone campus.” Although it represents a relatively small population, this provision could cause fluctuations in staffing needs.
Through proper staffing of the liaison role and any support staff, HR can help ensure the success of homeless students, whether the district has a full-time team or part-time allocations of other staff.

Staff training

Homeless students may go unidentified for a variety of personal reasons, like stigma or being unfamiliar with resources, but also for institutional reasons. When we focus on institutional causes, we come to the other intersection of HR and homelessness: staff training.
Much of the work identifying students as homeless falls to campus personnel, who have more interaction and familiarity with students and their parents or caregivers. District HR departments can work with homeless education liaisons to ensure campus staff have adequate training. Below are some useful highlights from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the McKinney-Vento Act.
Students will be best served by campus personnel who are aware of the factors that qualify a student as homeless. According to the McKinney-Vento Act, lacking a “fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence” includes students who:
  • share the housing of others because of loss of housing or economic hardship (“doubled up”);
  • live in hotels, motels, or campgrounds because of a lack of alternatives;
  • live in a shelter or were abandoned in hospitals;
  • primarily reside in a public or private place not designed or ordinarily used as sleeping accommodation for humans;
  • live in a car, park, abandoned building, or bus or train stations; or
  • are migratory children who live in one of the above situations.
Additionally, staff can better serve students if they are aware of the Act’s requirements for enrollment, transportation, and Title I services.
  • Homeless students are to be enrolled immediately when they try. “Requiring missing paperwork or any other delay to enrollment is a violation of the McKinney-Vento Act,” according to TEA. Therefore, districts cannot require students experiencing homelessness to provide:
    • proof of residency or immunizations,
    • birth certificates or guardianship documents, or
    • any other sort of required paperwork. 
  • Districts are required to provide transportation and Title I services for homeless students. Delays in these may cause additional hardships for the student or may keep them out of school for longer than necessary.
Clear and consistent training on homeless student issues can ensure an accurate and efficient process that benefits students, families, and district staff.

Surveys on contract practices reveal common trends

by Troy Bryant

HR Services offers a series of ongoing surveys in DataCentral regarding school district employment contracts. These surveys cover Texas public school district practices for superintendent contracts, teacher contracts, and administrator and professional support contracts. We highlight common practices using the most current data from these surveys.

Superintendent contracts

Among survey respondents, the typical length of a superintendent’s contract term is three years (67 percent). Nearly all respondents (96 percent) reported that the board of trustees takes action to extend the superintendent’s contract each year if performance is satisfactory. Most districts (73 percent) try to extend the superintendent’s contract in the month of January.


In regard to superintendent performance evaluations and pay increases, rarely are annual increases to base salary guaranteed (14 percent). Of those that have a guarantee, about half indicated the amount of the pay raise is determined by the board of trustees each year.

Teacher contracts

Three-quarters of responding districts provide probationary contracts for three years for newly hired teachers with less than five years of experience. For experienced teachers new to the district with five or more years of experience (in the previous eight years), most respondents (94 percent) offer a one-year probationary contract.
We also surveyed for contract practices of common extracurricular assignments. For high school band director, 43 percent of districts offer a teacher contract with no contract for band duties and 43 percent give a dual assignment teacher/band director contract. For head football coach, 40 percent of districts give a dual-assignment teacher/coach contract and 40 percent provide an administrator contract.


Administrator and professional support contracts 

Seventy-one percent of responding districts use probationary contracts for new campus administrators. The standard length of term contracts for campus principals is two years in most responding districts (62 percent). For assistant principals, a one-year term contract is most common among respondents (64 percent).
In addition, the survey covers employment contracts for noncertified administrators and professionals. Contracts for professional support positions that do not require State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) certification are most commonly either Chapter 21 contracts—39 percent of districts—or noncertified contracts (non-Chapter 21 contracts)—37 percent of districts.
District administrators in positions that do not require SBEC certification are given a noncertified contract (non-Chapter 21 contract) in 39 percent of districts, while 31 percent of districts reported offering no contract.
TASB HR Services surveys public school member districts through DataCentral. As of January 2017, data for these surveys were collected from 319 (superintendent contracts), 297 (teacher contract practices), and 284 (administrator and professional support contract practices) participating districts. Member districts can participate and view the full results by visiting DataCentral. 

HR Extras

Discrimination charges in Texas lower than last year, but still copious

For the eighth consecutive year, Texas is the state with the most discrimination charges filed in the country, according to a new EEOC report.

Despite filing 231 fewer charges than last year, Texas still led the country in charges based on race, sex, religion, and color. The only category Texas didn’t report the most charges in was national origin, where it came in second.

Once again, California proved it’s not all about state population size when considering the factors for the number of charges filed. Though it has 12 million more residents, California (5,870) had just 63 percent of the amount of charges Texas (9,308) did.

Nationally, the country reported 91,503 discrimination charges, up from 89,778 in 2015. Retaliation charges went up by 2,261, accounting for 45.9 percent of all charges in 2016.

For more on the report, visit the EEOC Website.

Salaries in the United States are up from last year

A news release from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) detailed the wages of the nations’ 111.3 million full-time and salaried workers in the fourth quarter of 2016. The report stated the median weekly earnings were $849, a 2.9 percent increase from the fourth quarter in 2015.

The BLS reported the average hourly wage rose by 10 cents in December to $26.00, the largest annual increase since 2009. Employees in professional and related occupations brought in median weekly earnings of $1,141, up from $1,112 from 2015.

For a full report on salaries and wage earnings from the fourth quarter of 2016, visit the BLS Website


Inside HR Services

TASB HR Services launches community college program

TASB HR Services for Community Colleges provides human resources support for community college staff, including:

  • The HR Library, an online encyclopedia of information that includes discussion of HR-related topics and model forms and letters.
  • Discounted worksite posters and compliance guides tailored to meet the specific needs of school districts and other public employers, such as community colleges.
  • HR consultation support—call or e-mail our expert HR Services consultants with your HR-related questions. 
  • DataCentral, an online tool for creating customized compensation reports using data from our salary surveys. Colleges will have immediate access to school district salary data for more than 120 benchmark jobs.
  • Model job descriptions for more than 140 jobs that are designed to be edited and revised to accurately reflect local job assignments, qualifications, and working conditions.
  • The twice-monthly HR Exchange newsletter, providing best practices and guidance on the latest HR trends, issues, and legislation.
As we expand TASB HR Services for Community Colleges, our services are growing to include:
  • The Model Employee Handbook, a user-friendly resource for the development of an organization-wide employee handbook. Resource materials are correlated to TASB Policy Manual codes. New college edition scheduled for release in spring 2017.
  • Community College Salary Surveys especially tailored for institutions like yours in Texas, along with online access to results data in DataCentral that allows you to create custom comparison market reports. New college survey scheduled for fall 2017.
For more information on the services and resources we offer, visit our About HR Services Webpage.

Stipend, superintendent total compensation available 

New 2016–17 Extra-Duty Stipend Survey data is now available in DataCentral for all HR Services member districts. Access the data to create your own custom market reports on more than 75 athletic, academic, and performing arts stipends.

It’s the time of year when you may need to review superintendent compensation market data. Remember to visit DataCentral to research the most current data on total compensation including common allowances and benefits in Texas public schools. You can find the Superintendent Salary Survey report in DataCentral.

Learn about other districts’ HR practices and policies

Please participate in our HR surveys in DataCentral covering topics like employment contracts, leave reimbursement, and local leave benefits. Your district must participate to get the results. Visit DataCentral and go to the HR Data page to take our HR surveys. A full list of surveys can be found below:
  • Administrator and Professional Support Contracts
  • Career and Technical (CTE) Pay Rates
  • Health Insurance Premiums 2016–17
  • HR Department Responsibilities
  • HR Department Staff
  • Leave Reimbursement
  • Local Leave Benefits
  • Sick Leave Banks and Pools
  • Superintendent Contracts
  • Supplemental Benefits
  • Supplemental Pay Rates
  • Teacher Contracts
  • Teacher Professional Development
  • Teacher Substitutes and ACA