Contract renewal season is right around the corner. Under state law, all certified employees must be notified before May 1st of whether the district will issue them a contract of employment for the subsequent school year. This article provides a list of best practices for your District when making these personnel decisions that will impact students for the next school year.
CONTRACTS AND EVALUATION PROCEDURES
First year teachers or those with less than one year of teaching experience will begin teaching under an induction contract. At the end of the three-year induction period, the district may (1) employ the teacher under another induction contract, (2) employ the teacher under an annual contract, or (3) terminate the teacher's employment. Under induction contracts, teachers have substantially less due process rights compared to rights held under an annual contract.
With regard to teachers employed under annual contracts, districts have three options. Similar to the options available with the induction contract teacher, a district may (1) move a teacher to the next contract level, the “continuing” contract level; (2) retain the teacher at the same contract level; or (3) choose not to reemploy the teacher. As an annual contract teacher, the employee is required to complete a formal evaluation process. An annual contract teacher should not be moved to the continuing contract level, where the teacher is entitled to more extensive due process rights, unless the district is fully satisfied with the teacher's overall performance. It should also be noted that a teacher who fails to successfully complete the formal evaluation process that accompanies an annual contract must be terminated and not be employed as a teacher in a public school in South Carolina for at least two years. S.C. Code Ann. § 59-26-40 states that teachers who are not recommended for reemployment under this type of contract may request a hearing before the Superintendent; the written decision of the Superintendent may be appealed to the board. The school board has discretion over whether to hear the teacher's appeal.
Once the teacher has successfully completed the formal evaluation process under the annual contract, the district may offer a teacher a continuing contract. The district has two options when it comes to the renewal of a continuing contract: (1) it can reemploy the teacher under his or her continuing contract or (2) it may not reemploy the teacher. Teachers on continuing contracts have rights under the S.C. Teacher Employment Dismissal Act (“TEDA”). If a continuing contract teacher is not reemployed, he or she may request a hearing before the board. It is important to keep in mind that if the Superintendent fails to notify the teacher in writing before May 1st, the teacher is considered reemployed as if the board renewed his or her contract.
DOCUMENTING PERFORMANCE ISSUES
There are a number of different types of “documentation,” and the following may prove to be useful to you in making personnel decisions concerning certified employees: (1) personal notes to the file made by an administrator after observing or talking with a teacher; (2) informal memos to the employee that are not copied to the personnel file; (3) attendance records, leave slips, grade book documentation, etc.; (4) formal letters of reprimand that are placed in the employee's personnel file; (5) formal evaluation documents; (6) complaints from other staff and parents; and (7) summaries from classroom observations.
Keeping accurate documentation can minimize any misunderstandings about what was said in a conference and can bring the seriousness of a situation to the employee's attention. The following is a non-exhaustive list of occurrences you may want to document: (1) specific incidents of misconduct; (2) feedback following an observation; (3) concerns that create a pattern of problems; and (4) summaries of conferences with the employee. When creating documentation, make certain the letters/memos that are sent to an employee are helpful—clearly define the problem; avoid making vague references to “my concerns about your performance” or “the incident that occurred in your classroom last week.” This will prevent potential miscommunication and help place the employee on notice that his or her behavior is not acceptable. Additionally, provide a timeframe for improvement and the possible consequences if improvement is not demonstrated. As always, watch spelling, punctuation and grammar; you never know who might be reading your letter.
There are many options available to districts when renewal decisions are made. Because due process rights increase at each subsequent contract level, resulting in a more complex nonrenewal process, districts should not move teachers to a higher contract level without giving careful consideration to whether retaining the teacher at the same contract level would give the district more of an opportunity to assess the teacher's potential. In all cases, districts bear the burden of establishing that all State law requirements and State Department of Education guidelines have been met and that there are sufficient grounds to warrant contract nonrenewal. We wish you luck as you make these important decisions over the next month; if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.