Substitute employees and unemployment claims

by James Ezell

Q: Can substitute employees claim unemployment benefits against a school district?

The short answer is yes, substitute teachers and other at-will employees can and do file for unemployment benefits in between assignments. The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) will typically award benefits to subs who file in between assignments because they are treated as being laid off since most substitutes are not fired for misconduct, nor do they voluntarily quit subbing. Hence, being laid off means they become eligible. However, that does not necessarily mean that an employer will be charged for their benefit claim, especially if the person is new to the district.

When a claimant files for benefits, it begins a process called filing an initial claim. The TWC examines the wages the person has earned in the preceding five quarters completed before filing that initial claim, but discards the most recent quarter of wages. This leaves four quarters of wages to calculate the claimant’s benefits. If it is a new substitute, the employer usually has no wages leading up to that point. This means that, while the claimant is eligible, the employer has not paid them any wages in the time period in question. Only employers with wages in that time period are charged for the claim. If the person has been working for the employer during this time period, then those wages will be used to pay the claim.

Q: So, can a person work and claim unemployment benefits during the same time?

Yes, the person can receive both a paycheck and unemployment benefit payments in the same week. Since unemployment claims are measured by an entire week, it is possible to work one day and be off the next, file a claim, and then return to work later. The TWC uses all wages earned in a week to offset any benefits paid. For example, the wages the person earned in the past four quarters are used to calculate a Weekly Benefit Amount (WBA) when the initial claim is filed. This is what the TWC pays in unemployment benefits. However, this payment will be offset with any wages earned in a claim week doing things like subbing. A claimant may earn up to 125% of this WBA and still claim unemployment benefits, but the payment is reduced as the person earns more, up to 125%. So, if a person who is eligible for $200 per week in unemployment benefits works two days as a sub and earns $150, the person would be eligible to collect only $100 in unemployment benefits (125% of $200 = $250 - $150 earned subbing = $100 unemployment benefits).

Q: What about Letters of Reasonable Assurance?

Letters of Reasonable Assurance (LRA) are to protect against claimants filing unemployment claims over scheduled breaks (summer vacation, winter break, Thanksgiving, spring break, etc.). The TWC treats claimants on break as laid off since it is a temporary work stoppage (the person has not been fired or quit). But, a claimant will not be able to use wages from an educational institution to calculate benefits if the person has reasonable assurance to return to work when the break is over. The LRA is the evidence that the person is returning. So while the LRA does not protect against subs filing in between assignments during the school year, it is essential for protecting the school from claims over breaks.

A model LRA is available in the HR Library and in the TASB Risk Management Unemployment Resources, available to TASB Risk Management Fund members.

BEST: An acronym with a twist

by Keith McLemore

Since the 1980s, many merit pay models meant to differentiate teacher pay based on some measure of performance have come and gone almost as quickly as they arrived on the scene.

Common challenges for implementing performance pay include finding a proven standardized student assessment system, long-term funding, a method for gauging an educator’s value-added contribution to student growth, and getting participant buy-in.

Confounding things further is how to fairly judge one educator’s performance compared to another because of differences that exist between students, classrooms, schools, and districts.

For a district considering the viability of merit pay, the challenge isn’t being able to account for all of these issues, but accounting for as many as possible. Bryan ISD has come up with a plan to tackle these obstacles.

Breaking down BEST

BEST, an acronym for Bryan’s Excellence for Students and Teachers, is a targeted compensation plan built by Bryan ISD with a focus on increasing academic success and attracting and retaining high-performing classroom teachers. For purposes of the initiative, classroom teachers are defined as those who are evaluated under Texas Teacher Evaluation Support System (T-TESS).

Officially launched during the 2016–17 school year, the plan was formulated and designed over a 14-month period starting in 2014. The design team was composed of approximately 40 members and included an intentional majority of classroom teachers from all grade levels and subjects, community representatives, school board members, and other key campus and district personnel. 

Who gets what?

The plan is relatively straight forward and consists of three basic components, or “Modules,” which are best thought of as add-on pay mechanisms.

Module I provides all current teachers with a yearly base pay increase of $1,000, regardless of subject area, depending on the availability of funds. Module I was designed to start the program off with an optimistic tone by providing a pay increase to all classroom teachers. 

Module II provides all teachers in critical assignments (math, bilingual, State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness [STAAR] subjects, classes with an end of course [EOC] exam) an additional $1,000 supplement. Half of the stipend is paid in December around the holidays when teachers are most likely to have extra expenses and the other half is paid in May. Module II supplements are prorated for those who have split positions or combined duties.

Module III consists of performance rewards available to all classroom teachers, regardless of whether they are tested or not, and includes the following facets:
  • $1,000 paid in December to all classroom teachers on a particular campus if that campus receives a “Met Standard” rating from TEA for academics for the prior year
  • An additional $100 to each classroom teacher on a particular campus for each TEA academic distinction earned by that campus. Campuses have a maximum of five to seven distinctions available depending on the grade level
  • An additional $250 per classroom teacher if their campus meets district-defined student attendance goals
Module III performance rewards are paid in the year following the measurement period, which means the employee must return to Bryan ISD to receive the award. This was designed to improve retention. Teachers that retire or are promoted internally are still eligible. Additionally, Module III award recipients must meet all of the following criteria:
  • Be full-time, start employment on or before September 1st, and complete the entire assigned duty calendar and contractual year
  • Return to the same campus (unless a transfer was initiated by the district)
  • Return to work full time (greater than 50% FTE)
  • Have a positive performance evaluation
  • Be an employee in good standing
  • Complete 30 hours of professional development during the year
  • Not miss more than four days of work, excluding protected forms of leave such as family and medical, temporary disability, military, jury duty, and school business

What’s next?

While payouts for Modules I and II will take place in 2016–17, the reward-based payouts for Module III will not occur until 2017–18. The initial results seem to be positive.

According to Tracy Coleman-Hilton, Human Resources Coordinator for Bryan ISD, communication is key.

“We have tried very hard to get this information out but we still come across teachers that know little about it,” she said. “From those that we have heard from, all think it is a great idea, although there is some resentment that Module II did not apply to all classroom teachers.”

For districts interested in the plan, she offers several valuable suggestions from her direct experience with the project:
  • Clearly define your qualifying group(s)
  • Look at every teacher type by position to ensure you've justified why they are in Module II (or not)
  • Communicate early and often
  • Ensure you've given enough time to audit the master schedules
  • Consider the substantial administrative time involved, not just for planning and implementation, but for calculating the award amounts and determining eligibility
  • If an attendance component is included, there may be an increase in requests for family and medical leave because these absences are excluded from the attendance requirement
As for any new program, only time will tell if Bryan’s BEST program achieves a measurable, positive impact on student performance and teacher retention.

The district says it intends to evaluate the plan annually based on measurable data points such as graduation rates and scores on placement tests like the ACT, SAT, and PSAT. 


8 tips for getting started on Twitter

By Zach DiSchiano

If you’re an HR administrator in a public school district, you’ve probably heard about the many benefits of creating and actively using a Twitter account. Considering the opportunities to show off your district’s culture, the ability to network and recruit, and keep up with the latest news, Twitter provides numerous benefits for someone in an HR role.

Still, many administrators haven’t got around to actually setting up an account. Some are just too busy and others need a little assistance in venturing through the process. If you’re a member of the latter group and need some help with the basics, I’ve got you covered with our eight tips for getting started on Twitter:

1. Don’t be an egg

Make sure you have a profile picture available for the public to see. It’s best to use a picture of yourself so people have an idea of who they’re actually following, but it’s also OK to use pictures of you with family members or other things you care about.

2. Fill out your bio

Tell the world about yourself in a couple of sentences. Most people include who they work for and something they’re passionate about. You also can write something funny, if you feel inclined. This is the first thing people will see when they click your page and are deciding whether to follow you, so put some effort into it. Additionally, you can display the city you live in, your website if you have one, and your birthday (Twitter omits the year of birth by default). The more you have in your bio, the better.

3. Personal or professional?

Decide whether you want this account to serve as a personal account or a professional one. The difference between the two is that personal accounts are about you as an individual and expressing your hobbies and passions that may or may not have anything to do with your job. Professional accounts should be used for networking and promoting discussion about your field. I recommend having one of each.

4. Original tweets > Retweets

People don’t follow you to see what other people are tweeting that you find interesting. They clicked the “follow” button on your page to see what you have to say. Your timeline should have more original tweets than retweets. If all you’re doing is retweeting what other people write, your followers won’t see the use in following you.

5. Photos and videos

The more photos and videos you include in your tweets, the more people are going to interact with you. People love visual media and it’s important to capitalize on that. One of the best tricks I use to engage users on Twitter is to post a relevant photo and tag 10 accounts in the photo. This sends a notification directly to that person’s phone the second you tweet your content, and from there, they basically have to open and view it. It doesn’t guarantee they’ll retweet it or reply to you, but it does at least ensure they view your post and become aware of what’s going on in your district.

6. Mind your audience

Twitter has a variety of analytics at your disposal that allow you to learn nearly everything about your followers. You don’t have to cater every tweet to their specific interests, but it’s something to review, especially if you’re wondering why some tweets are working well and others are going unacknowledged. Also, be aware that everything you do is visible to the public. Not only can everyone see every tweet and picture you’ve posted, but also every tweet you’ve liked on other accounts.

7. Interact with others

Twitter is an open marketplace for thoughts and ideas. You can become acquaintances with someone halfway across the world just by replying to one of their tweets and opening up a dialogue. This is a great way to gain and retain followers. Interactions between users is the blood of Twitter and without it, Twitter could not function.

8. Capitalize on trends

If interactions are the blood, then trends are the legs that push Twitter forward rapidly. Twitter is all about “now.” You can log in for five minutes during the morning, come back an hour later and have missed three earthquakes, a Supreme Court ruling, a new iPhone launch, and a viral video of a kitten doing a backflip. And guess what?  All of that is considered old news by the time you get home from work.

If you’re not sure what you want to tweet, click one of the trending hashtags and chime in on something. Tag one of your friends and ask them what they think about it. Create a poll for your followers to vote on and discuss. There are a million things happening each instant, and that’s what Twitter wants you to focus on.

HR Extras

HR manager named one of best jobs for 2017

A study conducted by Glassdoor ranked human resources manager as the sixth best job in the country this year.

The rankings were based on earning potential, number of job openings, and career opportunity ratings. There are 4,339 job openings for human resource managers, with a median base salary of $85,000 per year. The position reported a 3.8/5 job satisfaction rating and a 4.6/5 overall job score.

Also on the list were compliance manager, ranked as the 25th best job, and compensation analyst, coming in at No. 35.

To view the full list, click here.

Texas cities ranked among best places to find a job

A recent report from WalletHub, a personal finance website, found that Texas is the place to look for those seeking employment.

Analysts from the organization compared 150 of the most populated cities across 23 key metrics of job market strength, including job opportunities, employment growth, and median annual income, to find the best and worst places to work in the country.

While there were many Texas cities on the list, some of the top destinations from last year dropped in the rankings. Austin, ranked No. 3 in the 2016 rankings, fell 19 spots to No. 22 on the 2017 list. Irving dropped from No. 4 to No. 37. Houston perhaps had the biggest regression, falling from No. 25 last year to No. 88 this year.

Where Texas cities ranked on the list:
  • No. 2 Plano
  • No. 17 Garland
  • No. 21 Dallas
  • No. 22 Austin
  • No. 26 Grand Prairie
  • No. 34 Amarillo
  • No. 37 Irving
  • No. 50 Lubbock
  • No. 58 San Antonio
  • No. 69 Arlington
  • No. 77 Fort Worth
  • No. 85 Corpus Christi
  • No. 87 Laredo
  • No. 88 Houston
  • No. 90 El Paso
  • No. 128 Brownsville
To view the full list, click here.