Questions often arise during the spring semester when districts issue contracts to returning and new employees.
Common questions include:
- Who is entitled to a Chapter 21 contract?
- Which professional capacity should be designated in the contract?
- What should be the contract length, and can it be changed?
- How long of a period should an employee be given to sign and return a contract?
Who Is Entitled to a Chapter 21 Contract?
A district must issue a Chapter 21 contract to an educator in any position that requires certification by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC), if local policy mandates it, if certification is locally required, or if the employee is employed in a nurse position. An educator is a professional required to hold a certificate from SBEC including:
- Classroom teacher
- Educational diagnostician
- Athletic director
Districts are not required to provide a Chapter 21 contract to part-time employees, teachers who don’t teach the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), employees teaching under a Local District Teaching Permit (LDTP), licensed professionals (except nurses), and positions that do not require a license or certificate.
These employees can be employed at-will or by a non-Chapter 21 (noncertified) contract if prescribed in Policy DCE (LOCAL). A model Noncertified Contract is available in the HR Library in the Contracts and Assignments section (member login required).
Which Professional Capacity Should Be Designated in the Contract?
Districts must designate the employee’s professional capacity on a Chapter 21 contract. The designation is important because it determines the range of duties and assignments the district can give to the employee. Since it impacts the district’s ability to assign and reassign the educator it should not be too narrow or too broad. For example, the general category of certified classroom teacher is recommended as opposed to first grade teacher or any other specific teacher position. Similarly, an educator whose contract states they’ll be a high school principal may only be assigned to a principal position at a high school, not at a middle school or as an assistant principal.
If the designation is too broad, the commissioner may reverse the reassignment. The commissioner has cautioned that the professional capacity stated in the contract may not be so broad as to permit the district unfettered discretion in assigning and reassigning the employee. For example, the commissioner has concluded that professional employee is not a legitimate professional capacity.
TASB Legal Services recommends the professional capacity used be titles identified in Texas Education Code Chapter 21, such as certified classroom teacher, certified administrator, counselor, educational diagnostician, library media specialist, or nurse.
Designating an accurate professional capacity allows a district to reassign an employee within the same professional capacity at its discretion, subject to certification requirements. The commissioner has consistently upheld reassignments within such designations, such as:
- Reassignment of certified administrator from high school principal to elementary assistant principal
- Reassignment of administrator from director of secondary curriculum/staff development to assistant principal
- Reassignment of certified administrator from athletic director to attendance and adjudication administrator
- Reassignment of librarian from high school librarian to elementary school librarian
- Reassignment of certified administrator from central office administrator to assistant principal
What Should Be the Contract Length, and Can It Be Changed?
While a probationary contract may not exceed a term of one school year, a term contract may extend from one to five years. The length of a term contract is a local decision. Typically, districts use one-year contracts for teachers, librarians, and other campus-level educators. Multi-year term contracts are more common for central office administrators.
Multi-year contracts are often used as an employment incentive for hiring the best qualified staff and provide more leadership stability to implement long-term plans. On the other hand, longer contracts limit the district’s ability to non-renew a contract or renegotiate or update contract terms. Although an employee may resign every year before the penalty-free resignation date, the district is committed for the entire length of the contract. The contract length only can be changed at the end of the term (e.g., when the contract is taken to the board for renewal).
Another key issue concerning contract length is the number of months of employment during each school year noted on the contract. This usually corresponds to the educator’s work schedule. Educator contracts must be for a minimum for 10 months of service.
Districts must determine locally which employees will receive 10-, 11-, and 12-month contracts. TASB Legal Services recommends that districts communicate work schedules in terms of duty months. Most educators work a 10-month duty schedule, while campus administrators may work 11 months, and district administrators may work a full 12 months.
How Long Should an Employee Be Given to Sign and Return a Contract?
The final paragraph in the TASB model contracts (i.e., Expiration of Offer) addresses the deadline for an employee to sign and return the contract to the district and the consequences if the deadline is not met. The amount of time an educator has to return the contract is a local decision and should be long enough for the individual to review the contract and consult with an attorney if desired.
More contract information can be found in the HR Library in the Contracts and Assignments section. A guide to all of HR Services contract information and resources is available in the HRX article Contract Administration Resources.
Cheryl Hoover joined HR Services in 2018. She assists with staffing and HR reviews, training, and other HR projects. During Hoover’s public school career, she served as an executive director of curriculum and principal leadership, executive director of human resources, principal, assistant principal, teacher, and coach.
Hoover earned her bachelor’s degree from The University of Texas at Austin and obtained her master’s degree from Texas State University. She is a certified PHR.
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