Personnel Series – Who Qualifies As a Tenured/Permanent Teacher?

This blog post is the fourth in our series of posts on Spring Personnel Decisions and will cover who may qualify as a “tenured teacher” under Missouri’s Teacher Tenure Act (the “TTA”). As administrators prepare contracts for the coming school year, they are often faced with situations where it is unclear whether a certificated staff member qualifies for “tenure” status. This post will outline who is eligible for tenure and how they may obtain it.

Who is a “teacher”?

The first part of determining who can qualify for tenured status (referred to in the TTA as “permanent teacher”) is deciding whether or not the staff member meets the definition of “teacher” under the TTA. This is defined in § 168.104(7), RSMo., as:

any employee of a school district, except a metropolitan school district, regularly required to be certified under laws relating to the certification of teachers, except superintendents and assistant superintendents but including certified teachers who teach at the prekindergarten level in a nonmetropolitan public school within a prekindergarten program in which no fees are charged to parents or guardians.

(emphasis added). While this definition seems fairly straightforward, there are instances where it can cause some confusion. The three most common instances of confusion relate to preschool teachers, substitute teachers, and part-time teachers (generally retired teachers working under 550 hours per year).

For preschool teachers, whether or not they meet the definition of “teacher” under the TTA depends on the type of prekindergarten program that is operated by the district. If the program does not charge fees, then these employees qualify as a “teacher” under the TTA. Some programs though will charge fees for certain students but not for others. In those situations, it will depend on whether or not the students are intermingled, meaning there is no clear distinction between the program in which fees are not charged and the program in which fees are charged. If there is no such distinction, then the program can be considered on that charges fees. However, if students that pay a fee are placed in a different classroom with a different teacher than those that do not pay a fee, then generally that can be considered as two different programs whereby the teacher in the room with students that are not charged a fee will be considered a “teacher” under the TTA.

Aside from preschool teachers, the other two areas of confusion involve part-time and substitute teachers. While it may seem odd that these types of staff members are considered “teachers” under the TTA, that is in fact the case. For both, in order to teach within the District they must hold some type of certification related to teaching. For part-time teachers, that is usually a valid teaching certificate. For substitute teachers, that is generally a substitute certificate. For both of these types of employees then, they are employees that are required to be certified under the laws relating to the certification of teachers, and therefore qualify as “teachers” under the TTA.

Who is a “permanent teacher”?

Once it is determined that a staff member qualifies as a “teacher” under the TTA, the next step is determining whether or not they have attained tenured (or “permanent teacher”) status. The following are ways in which a “teacher” can attain tenured status:

  1. A teacher works five (5) successive, full-time years in the same district, and continues thereafter to be employed as a teacher. This is sometimes referred to as the “5 years and a day” route, meaning that the teacher works 5 successive, full-time years and 1 day. It is on that final day, which is the first day of the 6th year, that the teacher attains tenured status.
  2. A teacher earns tenure in a district, leaves the district, and then returns to the same district and works two (2) successive years in the district as a teacher. This is slightly different than the first option, in that it does not require the teacher to work 2 years and a day. The teacher attains tenured status again at the end of the 2nd

This all seems easy enough, but it can get complicated in the context of part-time or substitute teachers. It is possible to earn credit toward tenure on a prorated basis; so in the context of part-time teachers and substitutes, they can earn credit toward tenure even if they are not working full-time. Administrators will need to carefully review the amount of hours worked by the employee, and compare that to the number of hours a full-time teacher would have worked during those years. For example, if a full-time teacher in the 2017-2018 school year worked 8 hours a day for a total of 180 days, then that would amount to 1440 hours in a school year. A part-time teacher that worked 550 hours in a school year would then earn credit toward tenure in the amount of roughly 38.2% for that year. That calculation would then need to be worked out for each year the part-time teacher worked until he or she worked 5 years’ worth of hours for the district as a teacher. Once that occurs, then the part-time teacher would attain tenured status in his or her part-time position after working another day.

One final thing to keep in mind is that the number of years a teacher must work on order to obtain tenured status can be decreased when the employee was employed as a teacher for two (2) of more years in any other “school system”. In that case, one (1) year towards tenure is waived. Keep in mind though that the “school system” must be in the state of Missouri. As discussed above, the definition of “teacher” under the TTA includes any employee of a “school district,” and the TTA defines a “school district” as every school district “in this state.” § 168.104(6), RSMo. However, the term “school system” is not defined, so that can include things like private schools and charter schools.

Administrators

Other ways to obtain tenured status in a district involves administrators. Even though administrators are generally exempted from the definition of “teacher” under the TTA, the TTA does provide other ways for administrators to attain tenured status. They are as follows:

  1. An administrator works five (5) successive full-time years in the same district prior to becoming a supervisor of teachers, and continues to be employed as a certificated employee by the district. In other words, if an administrator would have attained tenured status after working the first day of the following school year before becoming an administrator, or if the administrator had already attained tenured status, then the administrator retains that tenured status even as an administrator.
  2. An administrator earns tenure in District A, is then hired in a supervisory position in District B, and works two (2) successive years as a principal or assistant principal in District B. In this situation, the administrator would attain tenured status in District B at the end of the 2nd

One thing to keep in mind though when it comes to administrators attaining or keeping tenured status is that the tenured status only applies to a teaching position – it does not give the administrator tenured status in their role as an administrator. For more information about how this affects the nonrenewal, resignation, or termination of administrators, please refer back to our previous posts on Spring Personnel Decisions.

If you have any questions regarding tenure or any other personnel matter, please feel free to contact any of our team members at EdCounsel.