Rights Under Types of Contracts
A Review of Teacher Contracts
There are three types of educator contracts in Texas: probationary, term, and continuing.
A continuing contract is as close to K-12 tenure as we have in Texas. A continuing contract ceases to exist only if the employee resigns, retires, or is lawfully dismissed. A teacher dismissed from a continuing contract always has the right to a fair, impartial hearing before an independent hearing examiner. (We refer to this type of hearing as a "subchapter F" hearing, referring to Chapter 21, subchapter F of the Texas Education Code). This is because there is technically no end to a continuing contract, and thus any discharge would occur during the contract term. Only a small percentage of Texas school districts offer continuing contracts to teachers.
The vast majority of Texas school districts offer term contracts. A term contract is for a time certain, usually 1 or 2 years. If a teacher is proposed for termination during the contract term, the employee is entitled to the same subchapter F proceeding that the continuing contract teacher gets. If a term contract teacher is proposed for nonrenewal at the end of the contract term, he or she is entitled to written notice from the board of the proposed nonrenewal at least 45 days before the last day of instruction. If the board does not timely provide this notice, the teacher is automatically renewed for the next school year. Upon receipt of the notice, the term contract teacher has 15 days to request a hearing before the school board concerning the nonrenewal.
A school board hearing is a tough place to win a nonrenewal case, because the school board members have already voted to approve the proposed nonrenewal. If the board totally embraces the administration, the teacher will find it most challenging to change the board members' minds. While most school board members claim to be impartial in such proceedings, most are not. They have received calls at home about the teacher, they have had private discussions about the teacher with the superintendent and/or principal and are inclined to support the administration, and as mentioned earlier, they have already approved the recommended nonrenewal.
With that said, in some circumstances nonrenewal hearings can be fruitful for teachers, with or without board impartiality. They can, on occasion, allow a teacher to expose illegalities perpetrated by the district, which may be reviewed on appeal. The hearing can also be a very cathartic process for some teachers. Win, lose or draw, they get their "day in court" before the school board and get to make the administration answer some tough questions.
Now we turn our attention to our colleagues employed on probationary contracts. We start with the proposition that a teacher new to a district, and a teacher who was previously employed by a district who returns to the district after a two-year lapse, must be employed on a probationary contract for at least one year. However, a district may employ an experienced teacher or principal on a term contract. For brand new teachers, the probationary period can actually last up to four years. For a teacher who has taught in five of the last eight school years, the probationary period can only last one year.
After the probationary period, the school district must place the employee on a term or continuing contract, or else dismiss the employee.
Are probationary contracts really that bad? On a day-to-day basis, a probationary contract teacher is entitled to all the rights and privileges of employment that all teachers have (e.g., state minimum salary schedule and any applicable local schedules; 30-minute duty-free lunch; five days of personal leave and any applicable local leave; 450 minutes of planning and prep time every two weeks; right to resign without board approval if done in writing at least 45 days before the first day of instruction). In fact, a probationary contract teacher proposed for dismissal during the contract term is entitled to the same subchapter F hearing that a term and continuing contract teacher receives. Further, the wording of a probationary contract may not differ at all when compared to a term or continuing contract.