Personnel Series – Nonrenewal of Probationary Teachers for Reasons Authorized by Statute

This blog post is the fifth in our series of posts on Spring Personnel Decisions and will cover the legal requirements and best practices associated with a specific set of reasons for the nonrenewal of probationary teachers listed in Missouri’s Teacher Tenure Act (“TTA”). This post is meant to supplement the previous post titled “Nonrenewal of Probationary Teachers and Administrators.

It is unfortunate that there are times when a district’s situation calls for a reduction in staff for the following school year. In what seems to be an instance of foresight though, whether based on an understanding of school finance or an awareness of the consistent underfunding of public education, the state legislature included a provision in the TTA that allows for a district to non-renew a probationary teacher due to three specific reasons:

  1. A decrease in pupil enrollment;
  2. School district reorganization; and,
  3. The financial condition of the District.

 

§ 168.126.1, RSMo. However, there are some legal requirements that are associated with this, and some best practices as well, which we will discuss in the remainder of this post.

To begin with, the first legal requirement associated with this nonrenewal mechanism is that it is limited to probationary teachers only. It does not apply to permanent/tenured teachers or administrators. If a district’s situation requires it to reduce the number of all teachers, then the district must utilize the “reduction in force” (or “RIF”) mechanism, which has its own set of legal requirements that are too numerous to discuss in this blog post.

The second important legal requirement associated with this nonrenewal mechanism deals with the way in which the teacher is notified, and it differs slightly from the usual process of non-renewing probationary teachers. As we explained in our “Nonrenewal of Probationary Teachers and Administrators” post, a probationary teacher that is non-renewed must be notified of that in writing by April 15. The teacher than has the right to request a written statement of reasons for the nonrenewal. When the reasons for nonrenewal are one of the three reasons listed above though, the teacher is not required to request the reasons for nonrenewal. The initial notice of nonrenewal to the teacher must state that the nonrenewal is due to one of the three reasons listed above.

Beyond these two legal requirements, there are also some best practices that are associated with this nonrenewal mechanism, and these deal primarily with what qualifies as a “decrease in pupil enrollment,” “the financial condition of the District,” and “district reorganization.” None of these three terms are well-defined in the law, and there have been no court cases in Missouri that provide further explanation of what would qualify as these reasons. Where that leaves districts then, in terms of best practices to follow, is that any non-renewals that are based on these reasons should be thoroughly documented in order to prepare for the possibility that such a nonrenewal will result in litigation. The recommended documentation for each reason is listed below:

  • A decrease in pupil enrollment.
    • The number of students enrolled in the District for the past five (5) years;
    • The number of students enrolled in the teacher’s assigned class and/or grade level for the past five (5) years;
    • The projected number of students that will be enrolled in the District for the next three (3) years; and,
    • The projected number of students that will be enrolled in the teacher’s assigned class and/or grade level for the next three (3) years.
  • School district reorganization.
    • The current organization of the teacher’s assigned grade level, subject matter, and/or school;
    • The planned reorganization of the teacher’s assigned grade level, subject matter, and/or school;
    • The reasons for the reorganization of the teacher’s assigned grade level, subject matter, and/or school; and,
    • The reasons why the teacher’s position is being eliminated from the new organizational structure.
  • The financial condition of the District.
    • The District’s entire budget for the previous five (5) years;
    • The amount in the District’s budget allocated to the Special Revenue (Teachers) Fund for the past five (5) years;
    • The District’s anticipated budget for the following year;
    • The District’s anticipated budget for the Special Revenue (Teachers) Fund for the following year;
    • The reasons why the District’s overall budget and Special Revenue (Teachers) Fund budget are anticipated to decrease.

 

As you can probably imagine, all three of these reasons are closely linked, and it may be that the justification for one of them is based on one of the others. For example, a decrease in pupil enrollment could affect the financial condition of the district or cause a reorganization of the district. What will be important is documenting what the district’s situation was, how it has or is anticipated to change, and the reasons why. To be clear, this documentation does not have to be provided to the teacher. It is simply meant to create a record in the event that a nonrenewal for these reasons leads to litigation. If it does, then having this documentation already created and used as a basis for the decision to non-renew the teacher will put district in a much better position in the event litigation does occur.

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