School district staff working to prepare for contract renewals can use the details in this article to ensure best practices are in place and legal requirements are met.
Preparation and approval of Chapter 21 contract renewals begin in early spring. Typically, 12-month contracts are taken to the board in February or early March. The remaining contracts (e.g., 10- and 11-month) are presented in March and April. Some districts may wait until early May provided the timing allows for an employee to receive notice of the action 10 days before the last day of instruction.
Preparing for Renewals
Early in January, districts begin preparing for contract renewals by updating the contract form. Many districts use model contracts found in the HR Library (member login required) that have been developed by TASB Legal Services. There are no changes to the models for 2023-2024, so districts can easily use the template from last year.
The next step is to follow the locally established timeline for preparing the renewal list to present to the board, followed by generating the contracts and distributing them.
Texas Education Code (TEC) requires the board to renew or nonrenew/terminate the contract at the end of the term. The superintendent is responsible for presenting the renewal list based on recommendations from administrators and principals. The board votes on the list of renewals, which is prepared and presented by the superintendent. The renewal list can be organized by length of contract, type of contract (e.g., probationary, term), professional capacity, name, and assignment. For probationary contracts, it may be helpful to also identify whether it is a first, second, or third year. Some districts identify first-, second-, or third-year probationary contracts as P1, P2, or P3, respectively.
Once approved, this list can easily be used to generate and distribute contracts. Distributing hard copy contracts can be time consuming, considering the time required to prepare, disseminate, and return signed copies. Automating the process can reduce time and effort. The first step to automation may be to send contracts electronically to employees using mail merge and email. This also will reduce the amount of paper needed to process contracts. Districts desiring the most efficient process can work toward using the existing human resources information system or another application to make the process completely paperless.
Length of Probation
An experienced individual who is new to the district and who has been employed as a teacher in public education for at least five of the eight years preceding district employment may only be employed by probationary contract for one year. This is commonly referred to as the five of eight rule. The number of years a person can be offered a probationary contract is established at the time of hire. Only experience obtained in the eight years before the initial offer of employment is counted.
After one year, the district must decide either to terminate the contract or offer the employee a term or continuing contract. A district of innovation (DOI) plan may provide an exemption to TEC § 21.102(b), so it’s important to check the plan to determine if an experienced educator may remain on a probationary contract for more than one year.
The commissioner of education has held that the term year for the purposes of a probationary contract is a full school year. A teacher who is hired after the first day of instruction can be given another probationary contract at the end of the partial year and continue employment under a probationary contract until he or she completes an entire school year.
For less-experienced personnel, the probationary contract can be extended each year for three years with an option to extend the contract to a fourth year if the board is in doubt about giving the individual a term or continuing contract (e.g., lacking certification, performance issue). By local policy, the board can require a one-, two-, or three-year minimum probationary period for all new hires with less than five of the last eight years of experience.
A probationary contract also may be offered to an employee who voluntarily accepts an assignment to a position that requires a different class of certificate than required for his or her current position — for example, a counselor who becomes a principal, or a teacher who becomes a counselor.
Districts may wish to add contract provisions to address a specific issue as a condition of employment — for example, when an individual is working on a permit, temporary certificate, or deficiency plan; or is a retiree. An addendum outlines requirements for the particular situation and becomes part of the employee’s contract. There are two model addenda available in the HR Library.
The certification addendum can be used when an employee is not fully certified and the district wants to ensure the employee completes the requirements necessary to obtain a standard or supplemental certificate according to the period established by the district. The retire/rehire addendum can be used to assign responsibility for obtaining information on the continuation of retirement benefits to the employee.
Addenda should be added when the contract is issued, not at a later date.
Expiration of Offer
Expiration of offer is the deadline for an employee to return a signed contract. The return date is determined by the district and should be long enough to allow the employee to read through the contract and consult an attorney if desired. If an employee fails to sign and return the contract by the date specified and the employee is currently employed under a contract with the district, the existing contract expires on its own terms and the employment relationship will end after the current contract ends.
Best practice is to follow up with employees who have failed to return the contract by the specified date. Sometimes circumstances may prohibit the timely return, and double checking before accepting the failure to return the signed contract as a resignation can help the district avoid making a mistake.
Even if an employee accepts and returns the contract by the date specified, the employee may resign employment with the district before the penalty-free resignation date, which is 45 days before the first instructional day of the following school year.
Model contracts written by TASB Legal Services can be searched for in the HR Library. There are no contract changes for 2023-2024. Additional resources can be found in the HRX article Contract Administration Resources.
April Mabry oversees HR Services training services, member library products, and the HRX newsletter. She has provided HR training and guidance to Texas public schools since 1991. Mabry was a classroom teacher for 11 years in Texas and Michigan.
Mabry has a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Michigan and certification as a professional in human resources (PHR) and is a SHRM-CP.
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