Managing Chapter 21 contracts can result in many challenges for school district employees.
Common questions related to contract administration include:
- How should a late hire educator be employed?
- How do you remove a Chapter 21 contract from an employee?
- How do you change an employee’s Chapter 21 dual contract?
How a district should employ an educator hired after the beginning of the year is an age-old question without a definitive answer. Texas Education Code (TEC) § 21.401(a) specifies that educator contracts must be for a minimum of 10 months of service. Effectively, the rule requires the educator to be employed on a school-year basis.
During the first semester of the school year, issuing a 10-month Chapter 21 contract is reasonable. The 10-month requirement becomes problematic for mid-year hires, though. It results in the contract issuance being out of sync with regular district operations. Giving a 10-month contract in the spring semester may give the educator more contract rights than they are entitled to by law.
Attorneys with TASB Legal Services believe the use of an employee agreement for a late hire may be legally defensible, but there is no commissioner’s decision supporting this action. The issue with this employment method is determining the process to follow if a termination is necessary. Regardless of how the district employs the individual, best practice is to follow the Chapter 21 process for terminating a probationary contract at the end of the year, including required timelines, if the district doesn’t want to continue the employment relationship.
To ensure proper contract management processes are used, the district may want to consider employing the late hire on a Chapter 21 probationary contract with the term stated as follows:
“You will be employed for the remainder of the 20__-20__ school year, according to the hours and dates set by the District as they exist or may hereafter be amended.”
We always recommend a district work with local counsel to determine how to employ late hires.
Discontinued use of Chapter 21 contract
Some school districts extend Chapter 21 contracts to employees who are not entitled to those rights and then later decide to discontinue the practice. Often these are central office staff, such as business manager, program coordinator, or other administrators who are not educators or whose position doesn’t require State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) credentials.
A district may move an employee to a non-certified contract or an at-will agreement between contract years if the employee isn’t entitled to a Chapter 21 contract. This action is supported by a 2009 commissioner’s decision (Harris v. Royse City Indep. Sch. Dist., Tex. Comm'r of Educ. Decision No. 057-R1-0506 (March 5, 2009)). A district may have questions about how to transition employees issued Chapter 21 contracts to a different employment arrangement. We recommend the district contact its school attorney for guidance.
Removing an educator from a dual assignment contract
School districts have two options for employing teachers who have extracurricular or supplemental duty assignments not directly related to their teaching assignment. The supplemental duty may be assigned on an at-will basis or by employing the individual on a dual assignment contract that includes the teaching and the supplemental assignment.
Using a dual assignment contract commits the district and the employee to both assignments. Neither may terminate part of the contract without the other party agreeing. Districts typically ask what to do if a teacher on a dual assignment contract wants to discontinue coaching or an athletic director wants to release a coach from their supplemental duties. This is the biggest hurdle to employing individuals on a dual assignment contract compared to an at-will supplemental duty assignment.
If the employee wants to discontinue the extracurricular assignment the following school year, the district has no obligation to allow the employee to remain in their teaching assignment without also remaining in their coaching assignment. The district may allow them to resign their dual contract and offer them a contract for an available teaching assignment.
On the other hand, if an athletic director wants to remove a coach from their extracurricular assignment for the following school year, the district must take action on the entire contract and terminate the employee for good cause or nonrenew the contract for reasons listed in Policy DFBB(LOCAL). Ending the contract means both assignments end, resulting in the loss of a valuable teacher, simply to remove the coaching duties. The district may offer the employee a new contract for teaching duties only, but the employee is free to reject the offer and leave the district.
If the district decides to end a Chapter 21 contract, we always recommend a district work with local counsel to ensure there is documentation to support this action and that the district follows statutory procedures.
The following resources may help navigate difficult contract actions:
Karen Dooley is an assistant director at TASB HR Services. Send Karen an email at email@example.com.
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Tagged: "Educator contracts", "Employment contracts", Nonrenewal, Termination