The top-10 most common questions on educator contracts

by Amy Campbell

HR Services consultant and Legal Services attorneys regularly field calls from district staff about educator contracts, and while many are questions with very particular and specific sets of circumstances, there are general topics and themes that emerge as common among districts. Following is a list of the top-10 most common general contract questions, in no particular order, along with answers and links to additional resources.

Q: Who is entitled to a Texas Education Code Chapter 21 contract?

A: Employees in positions requiring SBEC certification are entitled to Chapter 21 contracts. This includes:

  • Classroom teachers
  • Principals
  • Library media specialists
  • Counselors
  • Nurses
  • Educational diagnosticians
Districts also must provide Chapter 21 contracts to any other full-time professional employees required to hold SBEC certification and employees in positions specified in local policy (typically, DCB(LOCAL) for term contracts or DCC(LOCAL) for continuing contracts), regardless whether the positions require SBEC certification. Employees on local district teaching permits and employees in part-time positions (averaging fewer than four hours per day) are not eligible for Chapter 21 contracts.

Q: Do we have to provide a contract to someone who started after the school year began?

A: Texas Education Code requires that educator contracts must be for a minimum of 10 months of service. While a 10-month contract may be appropriate for someone who starts shortly after the school year begins, placing someone hired mid-year or later on a 10-month contract would provide more contract rights to the new hire than they’re entitled to by law.

TASB Legal Services believes that placing mid-year hires on an at-will employment agreement that runs for the remainder of the school year may be a legally defensible practice. Please contact your local counsel for advice on when an employment agreement is appropriate in your district’s specific employment situation.

Q: Do we have to count all teaching experience to determine how many years a new hire can be employed on a probationary contract?

A: No. Only public teaching experience must be considered when counting the number of teaching years in the eight years preceding employment by the district. If the employee has five years of teaching experience in public education in the eight years immediately preceding employment by the district, the employee may only be on a probationary contract for one full year. If the employee has fewer than five years experience at the time of employment, the employee may be on a probationary contract for three years. Experience teaching in a private school or in higher education would not apply. However, years spent teaching in a public school out of state should be counted. In this context, “teacher” means a principal, supervisor, classroom teacher, counselor, or other full-time professional employee required to hold SBEC certification or a nurse (TEC § 21.102 (a)).

Q: If we hired a teacher in January and she served this school year on a probationary contract but taught for the past seven of eight years in public schools, do we have to grant a term contract for the following school year?

A: An employee must, in most cases, serve one probationary period—at least one full year of service under a probationary contract—before becoming eligible for a term contract. The commissioner of education has held that a district may require an employee who was hired in January to serve a full school year on a probationary contract. 

Q: Can we remove a teacher’s coaching duties and discontinue his stipend during the school year?

A: It depends on whether the employee has a “single assignment” or “dual assignment” contract. If the contract is single assignment, the teacher or the district may end the assignment on an at-will basis.The employee would be entitled only to employment as a teacher and not as a coach. At any time the district could end his coaching assignment and stipend or the coach could quit his coaching assignment.

If the employee has a dual assignment contract that specifies he’s a “classroom teacher/coach” or similar, the employee is entitled to be employed—or at least compensated—as a teacher and a coach for the remainder of his contract. While the district feasibly could discontinue his coaching duties, the district would still be obligated to compensate him for the coaching duties during his contract period.

Q: If we promote a teacher to an administrator position (e.g., Assistant Principal), can we put him or her back on a probationary contract?

A: Yes. If an employee voluntarily accepts an assignment in a new professional capacity that requires a different class of certificate, the person can be employed on a probationary contract for the new assignment. The classes of certificates specified in SBEC rules include:
  • Principal
  • Classroom teacher
  • Instructional educator other than classroom teacher (including reading specialist)
  • Master teacher
  • Library media specialist
  • School counselor
  • Educational diagnostician
However, if the district returns the employee to his or her previous professional capacity, the employee is entitled to return to the same contractual status he or she had before the promotion occurred.

Q: What happens if we give an employee a Chapter 21 contract when the position does not require one?

A: If a position does not require a Chapter 21 contract (see the first Q&A above for more details on who is entitled to one), the district is not required to grant a Chapter 21 contract to employees in that position. Chapter 21 contracts incorporate statutory procedures that make termination of employment expensive and time-consuming. TASB Legal Services recommends that the district revise its policy so that employees working in positions for which no certification is required receive an alternative, non-Chapter 21 term contract that does not incorporate these statutory protections. TASB Legal Services has developed a sample non-Chapter 21 contract for this purpose, available in the HR Library.

Please note that if such a policy change is made, the district may have questions about how to transition employees issued Chapter 21 contracts under a previous policy to a different employment arrangement. The district should contact its school attorney for guidance on this process.

Q: How do we end a Chapter 21 contract?

A: There are three types of Chapter 21 contracts—probationary, term, and continuing—and there are two primary ways to end a Chapter 21 contract—nonrenewal or termination. Nonrenewal is a decision by the board not to rehire an employee at the end of his or her current contract. The board can only nonrenew term contracts, and then only at the end of a contract term and only for reasons set forth in local policy. If the board does not give timely notice of proposed nonrenewal, the contract renews for the subsequent school year. Termination can occur in the following instances:
  • At the end of a contract period for probationary contracts if, in the board’s judgment, the best interests of the district will be served by terminating the employment
  • At the end of a contract period for any contract type if the board declares a financial exigency that requires a reduction in personnel (though special hearing procedures are required); a reduction in force also may be grounds for mid-contract terminations for term contracts
  • At any time for any contract type for good cause
Q: How do we calculate the notice deadline days for nonrenewal purposes? Is it calendar or instructional or work days?

A: Written notice of proposed nonrenewal must be provided to the employee 10 calendar days before the last day of instruction through hand-delivery, or, if the employee is not present on the day delivery is attempted, the notice may be mailed by certified mail or express delivery service. The last instructional day is the last day students are in school and receiving instruction, which should be reflected on the district’s calendar.

Q: Can we immediately terminate a contract for an employee whose certification lapses during the year?

A: Termination of a contract during the school year due to the employee’s failure to obtain or renew certification does not require Chapter 21 due process and cannot be appealed to the Commissioner. However, the board must take formal action to void the contract. While a Chapter 21 hearing isn’t required, the employee does have a right to notice, an opportunity to present his or her argument to the board, and to a decision by the board on one of following actions they can take:
  • Terminate the employee
  • Suspend the employee with or without pay
  • Retain the employee for the remainder of the school year on an at-will basis in a position that does not require a Chapter 21 contract
The law provides a 10-day grace period for an employee to renew, extend, or otherwise validate his or her certificate or permit before a district terminates or suspends the employee for failure to renew or obtain certification.

Additional contracts guidance can be found in TASB Legal Services’ Guide to Educator Contracts and School Law eSource, and the HR Library.
 
 

The latest trends in teacher starting pay

by Patti Ellis

Since 1995, Texas school districts have been subject to the state’s revised requirements to pay educators at least the salary designated by the minimum salary schedule. The minimum salary schedule has changed very few times since then, with the most recent increase in 2015, previously followed by an increase for fall 2006. While the minimum salary schedule includes 20 years, we will be focusing on the starting salary for new teachers.

Trends in districts paying minimum salary

Data from the TASB Salary Survey show that since 2007, fewer districts are paying the state minimum teacher salary, instead paying above the minimum required. In 2007–08, 8 percent of districts were paying starting teachers at the state minimum. In 2016–17, only 1.5 percent of districts were paying starting teachers at the state minimum. Those districts paying at state minimum or close to it, tend to have fewer than 1,000 students.

While the number of districts paying exactly at state minimum is relatively small, many districts have starting salaries that remain near the state minimum. In 2007–08, 35 percent of districts paid a beginning teacher within $3,000 of the state minimum salary. That percentage also has steadily decreased over time. In 2016–17, just 10 percent of school districts were paying within that margin.

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Based on districts responding to the TASB District Personnel Salary Survey.

Taking a broader look, survey trends a decade ago showed most districts paid within $10,000 of the state minimum salary with very few districts venturing more than $10,000 above it. However, the latter group has been growing steadily, and the 2016–17 survey data shows that for the first time the number of districts paying more than $10,000 above the state minimum for beginning teachers dominates over those paying within $10,000.

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Highest starting teacher pay in Texas

The trend in districts paying further above the state minimum is due, in part, to the steady increase in the maximum beginning teacher pay across Texas school districts. Higher starting teacher pay can be attributed to many factors, including districts gradually catching up to the market and districts wanting to remain competitive to recruit teachers statewide. In the past 10 years, the highest reported starting teacher salary has increased more than $8,000.

As more districts have veered away from the minimum salary schedule and look to become more competitive with the market, the median starting teacher salary in Texas is catching up to the average salary. Historically, the median has been lower than the average because of the districts hovering at or near the state minimum starting pay.

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Even with districts moving away from the starting pay at or near the state minimum, the majority of starting salaries historically have been under $40,000 annually. Only in 2016–17 did we see an even split above and below $40,000.

Looking ahead

If history is any indicator, teacher starting pay will slowly, but steadily, continue to increase. As millennials are now the largest slice of the workforce, pay is certainly not the only factor to consider. Millennials strive to make a difference and find a path to personal and professional growth. Nevertheless, innovation is a key expectation of the up and coming workforce, so sticking to the same practices, even with compensation, likely will not attract or retain the next generation of educators.
 

Texas hires more athletic trainers than national average

by Troy Bryant

While the number of student athletes continues to climb in U.S. high schools, many participants do not have access to an athletic trainer.
 
Only 37 percent of public schools across the country provide full-time athletic training services (28 percent in private schools), according to a new study by the Korey Stringer Institute at the University of Connecticut. Seventy percent of public schools offered some level of athletic training services (58 percent in private schools). Published in the Journal of Athletic Training, the study surveyed 8,509 public and 2,044 private U.S. high schools between 2011 and 2014.

At the time of the study, athletic participation increased for the 25th consecutive year, totaling 7.8 million student athletes, based on data from the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS). 

Athletic trainers in Texas schools

According to the latest TASB Salary Survey, 79 percent of responding Texas public districts with 1,000 or more students employ at least one full-time athletic trainer. One-hundred percent of districts with 10,000 or more students reported at least one full-time athletic trainer position, compared to 54 percent of smaller districts with enrollment between 1,000 and 3,000 students. During the timeframe of the national study (2011–14), there was a notable increase in districts reporting athletic trainers in the TASB Salary Survey. 

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Only districts with 1,000 or more students were surveyed for the athletic trainer position.

Texas has the most high school sports participants of any state with nearly 810,000 student athletes, based on the latest data from NFHS.

Strategies to hire an athletic trainer

The study identified several obstacles public schools face in hiring athletic trainers, comprising budget limitations, school size, rural location, and lack of information on the athletic trainer’s role.
 
As noted by the researchers, the American Medical Association (AMA) and the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA) recommend hiring full-time athletic trainers in schools. The national study identified the following ways to address the lack of athletic trainers in schools:
  • Allocate funds during the athletic program budgeting process to employ an athletic trainer.
  • Create funding for a position through the “pay-to-play” concept. Require student-athlete participation fees to offset the expense for athletic training services.
  • Consider the cost savings in other areas if a full-time athletic trainer is hired, such as a reduction in insurance premiums because of lessened risk and liability issues.
  • Partner with a physical therapy or rehabilitation clinic to receive services free of charge if referrals are directed back to the clinic.
  • Educate athletic directors and other school administrators on the benefits of athletic trainers. Have the athletic training community, or a health care professional, advocate for these services in your school. In Texas, the Texas State Athletic Trainers’ Association (TSATA) promotes and advances the athletic training profession.
  • Share athletic training services with other schools in the area.
  • Establish a competitive salary and assure the candidate of job availability, if the individual is relocating to a rural school. 

 

HR Extras

UTeach program producing quality STEM teachers

Established 20 years ago by the University of Texas at Austin, UTeach is a program dedicated to producing more effective math and science teachers in high quantities.

The program has expanded to 44 universities in 21 other states and is expected to produce more than 9,000 science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) teachers by 2020. A recent report from the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER) found students taught by UTeach teachers perform significantly better on end-of-grade tests in math and end-of-course tests in math and science by 5 to 12 percent of a standard deviation on the test, depending on the grade and subject.

Students taught by UTeach program graduates are estimated to accrue four to six months of additional learning in a nine-month school year, according to the report.

The study also found evidence UTeach partner universities produce a higher number STEM teachers after implementing the program. Consequently, the program improves the overall quality of the STEM workforce by producing more above-average teachers from universities.

To learn more about the UTeach program, checkout their website at https://uteach.utexas.edu/.

TEA soliciting recommendations on teacher and principal talent pool

Education professionals are invited to endorse distinguished classroom teachers and principals to be included in the Texas talent pool, according to a Texas Education Agency (TEA) press release.

The recommendations are the starting point for nominations and applications for the long-standing Milken Foundation National Educator Awards.

TEA asks interested parties to complete a Talent Pool Recommendation form for each individual, including a one-page letter explaining how the nominated educator fits the listed criteria.  

All nominations are due 5 p.m. on Friday, April 28.
 

Inside HR Services

Coming soon: Our projected 2017‒18 pay raise quick poll

Find out what projected 2017‒18 pay increases will be in Texas school districts. Participate in our short poll and you’ll receive a summary report of the results following the conclusion of the survey. HR Services contacts will be sent an e-mail invitation to the online survey April 10. Highlights of the results will be published in the May issue of HR Exchange.

Spring Break HR Exchange recap

We know a lot of district personnel were out of office when we released our March Vol. 2 edition of the HR Exchange, so check out the links below to see what you may have missed.

Q&A: FMLA rules for instructional employees
Identifying and avoiding the W-2 phishing scam
Bus driver shortages: Where are we now?
Infographic: 4 steps to prevent the W-2 phishing scam
HR Extras

Thanks for checking it out, and we hope you had a relaxing Spring Break.