Texas Education Code (TEC) Chapter 21 provides the legal framework for educator contracts, and a district’s local policy manual outlines local choices that must be considered during the hiring process.
Local decisions for administering contracts include determining who has hiring authority and what type of contract to issue. These decisions will be captured in local policy, and for a district of innovation (DOI) in the board-adopted innovation plan.
The authority to hire contract personnel belongs to the board of trustees. Administrators, including superintendents, don’t have authority to hire contract personnel or sign employment contracts unless the board delegates authority. The delegation may take many forms.
HR administrators must consider local choices when establishing hiring procedures and ensure policy or resolutions are correctly implemented. Retention of hiring authority by the board or delegation to the superintendent is usually addressed in Policy DC (LOCAL). Other decisions may be authorized by board action and documented in board meeting minutes.
In some districts, the board has delegated to the superintendent full authority to hire all contractual personnel which would normally include the authority to execute contracts. In others, the superintendent has authority to hire contractual personnel for only certain positions or during specific times of the year. In larger districts, the board may authorize the superintendent to hire specified contractual positions on its behalf even if the superintendent doesn’t have authority to hire all contractual personnel.
To help expedite the hiring process during the summer months, the board may take action in the late spring to delegate authority to the superintendent for the peak hiring season. Best practice is for the board to modify their policy to give summer month hiring authority to their superintendent; others who wish to adopt a resolution should work under the advice of local counsel.
Before an employment contract is issued to an employee, it must be signed by an authorized district representative. In districts where the board retains final hiring authority for contract employees, the official act to hire an individual is the board’s vote, which is recorded in board minutes. Someone delegated, permitted, or instructed by the board to sign on the board’s behalf (usually the board president) then signs the contract. In districts where the final authority for hiring contract personnel has been delegated to the superintendent, only they should sign the employment contract.
Chapter 21 TEC requires that certain full-time professionals, administrators, and nurses be employed by a probationary, term, or continuing employment contract. These contracts are often referred to as Chapter 21 contracts. The law mandates specific rights and administrative procedures for each type of Chapter 21 contract. Professionals entitled to one of these types of contracts generally include the following:
- Classroom teachers
- Other professional and administrator positions that require a certificate issued by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) (e.g., diagnosticians, athletic directors)
Positions that do not require employment contracts include those held by part-time personnel, professionals and administrators who are licensed but not certified (except nurses), and positions that do not require a license or certificate. Classroom teachers on school district teaching permits, paraprofessionals, and auxiliary personnel need not be employed by contract. These employees may be employed at will, by a non-Chapter 21 contract, or by any method the district chooses.
If non-Chapter 21 contracts are used, the district will typically list the positions these contracts are issued to in Policy DCE (LOCAL). A model noncertified contract is available in the HR Library (member login required). In some districts, Chapter 21 contracts are provided to positions which neither SBEC nor the district require certification. If this is the case, Policy DCB (LOCAL) will identify these positions.
When a DOI plan exempts positions from the certification requirements, the district isn't required to employ uncertified teachers under a Chapter 21 contract, unless local policy provides otherwise. If the DOI plan only exempts certain positions (e.g., Career and Technical Education (CTE)), teachers in other positions requiring certification would still need to be employed under a Chapter 21 contract. HR also should consult local policies DBA and DK for details on certification exemptions including which assignments will and will not require certification and local procedures for hiring noncertified staff.
Probationary Contract Period
Probationary contracts are required for certified professionals and nurses hired by the district for the first time or who have not been employed by the district for two or more consecutive school years. There are two exceptions to this requirement.
- If the certified professional or nurse previously was employed by the district with less than a two-year gap, they must be rehired under a term or continuing contract.
- If the individual has prior public school experience as a principal or classroom teacher, the district may choose to hire under a term contract.
A probationary contract may not last for a term greater than one school year. A person who has been employed as a teacher in public education for at least five of the previous eight years at the time of hire may only serve on a probationary contract for one school year. This is often referred to as the five-of-eight rule.
A probationary contract for individuals with fewer than five years of experience can be renewed for two additional one-year periods for a maximum of three school years. A fourth probationary year may be added in circumstances where the board determines it is unlikely the teacher should be given a continuing or term contract.
Many DOI plans include an exemption to the five-of-eight rule. The typical exemption allows the district to employ an individual who has five or more years of experience on a probationary contract for more than one year. This exemption should be memorialized in Policy DCA (LOCAL), and HR documents and regulations updated.
HR staff navigating the hiring process need to be well informed on local provisions. Reviewing the policies and documents listed above will help ensure procedures align with policy and other board actions. Additional information on contracts can be found in the HR Library topic Employment Contracts and in TASB Legal Services' Guide to Educator Contracts. Additional information on Districts of Innovation is available on the TASB website.
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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