For most teachers, the employment contract is a document that is signed, returned and forgotten until the following year. However, it contains significant provisions that affect a teacher’s rights in the workplace.

Therefore, it is important to be aware of some of the provisions contained in a standard teacher contract. Please bear in mind that individual contractual obligations vary somewhat, depending on the specific language contained in the contract.

(NOTE: Contract language referenced herein is from the Texas Association of School Boards 2008 Model Contract.)

Term — The District agrees to employ the Employee on a ___ month basis for the 20__-20__ school year(s), according to the hours and dates set by the District as they exist or may hereafter be amended.

What this means

Most teachers have a 10-month employment contract. Although the dates of employment are not typically specified in the contract itself, a contract incorporates the law in force at the time it was created and, in the case of teacher contracts, also incorporates board policies and the board calendar. Therefore, under state law the standard teacher contract encompasses at least 180 days of instruction and seven days of professional development. Those specific dates are established by the district’s calendar as approved by the board of trustees. Whether the days of employment are limited to 187 days depends upon the specific terms of the contract and local policies.

Certification — The Employee agrees to maintain the required certification throughout the term of this Contract. If the Employee fails to fulfill the requirements necessary to extend a temporary or emergency certificate or permit, or if the Employee’s certification expires, is canceled, or is revoked, this Contract is void.

What this means

This contract provision clarifys that it is the responsibility of the teacher to maintain active certification.

A teacher contract is void if the teacher loses certification or fails to complete the requirements to renew a permit or temporary certification, regardless of the reason that the requirements were not fulfilled. If a teacher’s contract is void under this provision, the district may terminate a teacher’s employment without a hearing, suspend the teacher with or without pay, or retain the teacher on an at-will basis.

Beginning of Contract — The Employee represents that he/she has disclosed to the District, in writing, any conviction, no contest or guilty plea, or other adjudication of the Employee for any felony or any other offense listed at 19 Tex. Admin. Code § 249.16(b). The Employee understands that a criminal history record acceptable to the District, at its sole discretion, is a condition of this Contract.

During Contract — The Employee also agrees that, during the term of this Contract, the Employee will notify the Superintendent, in writing, of any arrest, indictment, conviction, no contest or guilty plea, or other adjudication of the Employee for any felony or any other offense listed at 19 Tex. Admin. Code § 249.16(b). Employee agrees to provide such notification within seven calendar days or any shorter period specified in District policy.

What these terms mean

These provisions place a duty on the teacher to report criminal history to the district at the time of hire and on an ongoing basis while employed by the district. The disclosure is different depending on whether the employee is a new hire to the district or is a current district employee.

New hires are only required to report any conviction, no contest or guilty plea, or other adjudication (including deferred adjudication). Current district employees must report the incident that forms the basis for the criminal history prior to final disposition, including any arrest or indictment.

Many school districts also have separate board policies that place a requirement on employees to report criminal history, and these requirements may be different from those specified in the contract.

The following offenses must be reported to the district, regardless of whether they are classified as misdemeanors or felonies:

  1. crimes involving moral turpitude;
  2. crimes involving any form of sexual or physical abuse of a minor or student or other illegal conduct with a minor or student;
  3. the facts underlying the crime would support a felony conviction for possession, transfer, sale, distribution, or conspiracy to possess, transfer, sell, or distribute any controlled substance defined in Chapter 481, Health and Safety Code;
  4. crimes involving school property or funds;
  5. crimes involving any attempt by fraudulent or unauthorized means to obtain or alter any certificate or permit that would entitle any person to hold or obtain a position as an educator;
  6. crimes occurring wholly or in part on school property or at a school-sponsored activity; or
  7. two or more crimes committed within any 12-month period that involve public intoxication, operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, or disorderly conduct.

Assignment/Reassignment — The District shall have the right to assign or reassign the Employee to positions, duties, or additional duties and to make changes in responsibilities, work, or transfers, at any time during the contract term.

What it means

This provision stipulates that the district has the right to change a teacher’s assignment and to require the teacher to perform extra duties after normal work hours unless local policies provide to the contrary.

A district may change a teacher’s assignment and may also transfer a teacher to a different campus. This is a broad grant of authority, subject to few limitations. One such limitation is that a teacher has the right to object to the change in assignment, and the district may not reassign the teacher over that objection if the new assignment would require the activation of a permit. A district may also not assign or transfer a teacher for a reason that is motivated by a reason that would constitute illegal discrimination, such as race, religion or gender.

The district may also require a teacher to perform extra duties after hours without compensation. Because the employment contract is for a set term, a requirement to work beyond that term could constitute a breach of contract. However some duties, such as attendance at a faculty meeting, are often performed after hours, and this practice is allowed under this provision.

The district’s limitation on its authority to impose extra duty after hours stems from the fact that this provision must be read in harmony with the contract as a whole, which means that the imposition of too much extra duty may effectively invalidate the contract term and constitute a breach of contract. Whether or not this breach has occurred depends on how many days and hours of extra duty the district is attempting to impose and is evaluated on a case-by-case basis by the commissioner of education when cases on appeal reach this level.

Supplemental duty — This Contract does not cover assignments of or payments for supplemental duties. This Contract does not create a property right to continued employment in any supplemental duty.

What it means

Supplemental duties are those that require a significant amount of work after normal school hours. In such instances, the district pays a stipend for the performance of the specific duty. Because the performance of a supplemental duty requires more hours than is contemplated under the "extra duties" provision of the contract, it is structured as an at-will position that is performed in addition to usual contract duties. The district may terminate the supplemental duty at any time, for any reason.

Although the teacher may file a grievance regarding the termination of a supplemental duty, there is no right to request a hearing as is permitted with a contract nonrenewal or termination. Conversely, the teacher may resign from the supplemental duty at any time without the consent of the district. Neither action will affect the underlying contract or the teacher’s employment with the district; however, the teacher will forfeit any stipend that has not been earned as of the date that the supplemental duty ends.

Supplemental duties differ from a dual assignment contract. A dual assignment contract incorporates two job titles into the contract (i.e., "Certified Classroom Teacher/Band Director"). Both titles become incorporated into the contract and neither assignment may be removed without affecting the entire contract.

Therefore, the district may not nonrenew or terminate either duty without offering the teacher an opportunity for a hearing, and conversely, the teacher may not resign from the assignment without the consent of the district. Dual assignment contracts typically contain a contract term that is longer than the 10-month term contained in a standard teaching contract, to compensate the teacher for the additional days worked as a result of the second assignment.

Termination — This Contract will terminate upon a determination by the Board of good cause, financial exigency, or a program change, in accordance with applicable law and Board policy, or upon the Employee’s resignation at the end of a school year without penalty, pursuant to the Texas Education Code.

Nonrenewal — The District may nonrenew this Contract in accordance with Texas Education Code Chapter 21, as applicable, and Board policy.

What they mean

These provisions address the means by which a district can force an involuntary separation of employment with a teacher. In most cases, the district must provide a teacher with notice of the action to be taken and allow the teacher to request a hearing. The type of hearing, the level of proof required, and the grounds needed to substantiate the adverse employment action vary depending on the type of teacher contract held and whether the district intends to nonrenew or terminate the teacher’s employment.

In the case of a nonrenewal, which applies only to term contracts, the district seeks to end the employment relationship at the end of the contract term. It must have documentation that supports contract nonrenewal for a reason that is specified in board policy, and the teacher is entitled to request a hearing before the Board of Trustees regarding the proposed nonrenewal.

For termination, the standard is even higher. A district that wishes to terminate a teacher’s contract prior to the end of the contract term, or terminate a continuing contract at any time, must be able to prove, at a hearing before an Independent Hearing Examiner, that it has good cause to do so. At the hearing, both sides are entitled to call and cross-examine witnesses and the hearing is conducted in a manner similar to a mini-trial.

A district is not required to provide due process prior to an involuntary separation of employment when the district seeks to end the employment of the holder of a probationary contract at the end of the contract term. In such a case, the district may terminate the contract for any reason that is in the best interest of the district, and the teacher does not have the right to appeal that determination. A teacher may file a grievance regarding the termination of a probationary contract at the end of the term.

This provision also addresses resignations. A teacher may resign a contract for any reason prior to the 45th day before the first day of instruction for the upcoming school year. After that time, the district may release the teacher from employment, but is not required to do so. A teacher who resigns from the district after the deadline without good cause and is not released by the district may be reported to SBEC for contract abandonment.

Conclusion

A teaching contract is a binding legal agreement that confers rights and benefits on both the teacher and the district. If you are a TCTA member and have questions about language contained in your employment contract, or are unsure about how to satisfy an obligation placed upon you by your contract, please call our Legal Department at 888-879-8282.