Personnel Series – Contracting with Teachers

This blog post is the sixth in our series of posts on Spring Personnel Decisions. In previous posts, we’ve discussed what to do to end your district’s contractual relationship with probationary teachers, but we haven’t yet covered the important things to keep in mind when contracting with teachers you want to retain, and specifically, what needs to be included within your teaching contracts themselves. This post outlines the legal requirements and best practices regarding contracting with teachers under Missouri’s Teacher Tenure Act (“TTA”).

There is little statutory guidance within the TTA that discusses contract terms; however, § 168.108, RSMo., requires that the following terms, in substantially the same (but not identical) form, are included in tenured teaching contracts:

  1. It is hereby agreed by and between ______, the teacher, and the Board of Education of ______ School District, the employer, that the teacher, beginning on the ______ day of ______, 20______, shall serve in the employ of the Board of Education and its successors for a term of ______ months (the number of school months of the school year in the school district) for an annual compensation of $ ______, to be paid to the teacher in equal installments according to local school board regulations less the contributions required by law.
  2. It is further agreed by the parties hereto that this contract shall continue in force from year to year, until modified or terminated in accordance with the provisions of sections 102 to 168.130, RSMo, and any amendments thereto prior to the date of this contract.

For probationary teachers, § 168.126, RSMo. states that a probationary teacher’s contract must be “made by order of the board, shall specify the number of months school is to be taught and the wages per month to be paid,” which are all also included in the first term listed above for permanent teaching contracts.

Because the wages are required by law to be included within teaching contracts, and contracts are required to be provided to probationary teachers on or before May 15, some issues can arise when a Board doesn’t adopt a salary schedule for the following school year until after contracts have been issued and executed. Under Missouri law, school districts are prohibited from providing “bonus compensation” to their employees, which would be any pay above and beyond an amount the employee is contracted to receive under a contract the employee is performing duties under, if there isn’t also a corresponding increase in duties under the contract. If a teacher contracts with the District to receive a certain salary for the following school year, and the Board later increases the salary after the contract is executed, a bonus compensation issue could arise if the contract is not modified before the teacher begins performing duties under the terms of the contract. As a simple solution to this problem, we recommend phrasing compensation paragraphs within teaching contracts in such a way that states the teacher’s salary will be a set amount in accordance with the salary schedule adopted by the Board, which may be increased no later than the district’s June Board meeting:

The Teacher shall be paid $________ annually in accordance with the salary schedule adopted by the Board. This amount will be increased in accordance with any amendment to the salary schedule made by the Board no later than ______, 20___, if any amendment is made.

Something else we wanted to highlight is that both statutes require the number of months the teacher will be contractually obligated to the district to be listed in the contract, not the days. Having the term of the contract laid out this way was particularly helpful for districts that wanted to “forgive” snow days this school year.  If the number of working days was set within a contract, some issues could arise if a district “forgave” some of the snow days, resulting in a shorter school year than was outlined in the teaching contracts. As a result, we have recommended the following language is included in the “term” section of teaching contracts to avoid this issue, which is in substantially the same form as the language in § 168.108, RSMo.:

The Teacher agrees serve in the public schools of the District for the school year beginning July 1, 20____ and ending June 30, 20____ for a term of ____ months, or approximately _____ days, in accordance with the academic calendar adopted or amended by the Board of Education at any time throughout the school year.

Another important note is that we don’t recommend that teaching contracts list the exact assignment a teacher is being issued for the school year the contract governs. This will avoid any claims that the teacher has a tenured interest in a specific position, including part-time positions. This happens most often when the District is employing retired, or “550,” teachers in part-time teaching positions. If the retired teacher works five years and one day under a part-time teaching contract, that teacher may be tenured in his or her part-time teaching position, which can make eliminating part-time positions more difficult if a district’s staffing needs change.

Contracts are great tools to ensure that both school districts and teaching staff understand their rights and responsibilities with regard to the employment relationship when they’re carefully and thoughtfully drafted. That’s why we recommend certain terms are included beyond the legally-required terms above in order to fully protect the District should issues arise during the school year. Specifically, we recommend school districts consider including terms that cover the following information:

  • Salary information as it relates to the district’s salary schedule;
  • Background screening requirements;
  • Benefits information;
  • Licensure requirements;
  • Responsibilities to comply with Board policies, regulations and procedures, administrative directives, performance standards, etc.;
  • The possibility of reassignment;
  • Rights of termination by the parties;
  • Approval of deductions from pay in certain instances;
  • Liquidated damages provisions, at the district’s option; and
  • Other general contract terms.

 

As mentioned briefly above, tenured teaching contracts are indefinite, meaning they exist in perpetuity until they are terminated. Because of this, a tenured teacher is not required to turn in a signed contract by a certain date to remain employed by the District, and the Board does not have to vote to rehire a tenured teacher each year. In fact, we don’t recommend having the Board vote to “rehire” tenured teachers because a vote not to rehire a tenured teacher would not result in a terminated contract.

As described in our previous blog post regarding Non-Renewals of Probationary Teachers, there are important dates to keep in mind when contracting with probationary teachers. Specifically, probationary teachers must be notified in writing on or before April 15 that the Board decided not to renew the probationary teacher’s contract for the following school year, or that probationary teacher is entitled to a contract for the following school year. Additionally, unless a probationary teacher who was informed by written notice of re-employment by the Board receives a contract on or before May 15, his or her contract from the current school year will remain in effect for the next school year. Unlike tenured teachers, however, probationary teachers must turn in a written acceptance (typically in the form of a signed contract), or written rejection of the district’s offer of employment within fifteen days of the date the District presents them with their contract for the following year, or the teacher will have rejected the District’s offer of employment. This doesn’t prevent the District from offering a teacher an additional contract, but it does remove the teacher’s entitlement to a position during the following school year if the District chose to offer that teacher’s position to another person.

In addition to their teaching duties, many certificated staff take on extra duties, such as coaching, class sponsorship, club sponsorship, etc., throughout the school year in addition to their teaching duties. We recommend that these duties are assigned to teachers through at-will letters of appointment rather than through extra duty contracts or within their teaching contracts. This is because the law does not require contracts to be issued to teachers for non-teaching duties. By issuing contracts to teachers for extra duties, school districts would create additional protections the employee isn’t otherwise entitled to, including a hearing before the Board to remove the teacher from extra duty employment if that became necessary during the school year.

If you have questions regarding on this topic, or if you’d like one of our team members to review and provide guidance on your current contracts, please let us  know!