Frequently Asked Questions About Employment
The performance and conduct, as well as most rights and responsibilities, of all professional educators employed in the public schools are governed by constitutional provisions, state statutes and case law, or state and local school board policies. Your contract constitutes a binding bilateral agreement between you and a state or local employer and is frequently the focus of questions from teachers.
The body of law, state and local policies, and rules and regulations that govern educators is too large to be discussed in detail here; however, some general questions that seem to arise most frequently, with appropriate answers, are listed below as a quick reference.
The employment contract and what does it really mean?
The basis and security of employment in a local school system is the contract. All teachers and administrators must have a valid Mississippi Certificate and must sign a contract of employment before the district can legally pay on the contracted amount. Signing the contract binds the employee to render the days of service as stipulated and the district to compensate the employee at the rate stated on the contract or by state regulations. Historically, teachers and administrators, other than the superintendent, are contracted for only one year at a time; however, multi-year contracts are permitted under state code and recent changes in school employment law have implications for seeking at least a two-year contract when changing districts.
How can an employment contract be terminated?
Contracts are issued for a specific number of days, usually 187, and under these terms a contract would expire when those days have been worked; however, it is possible to terminate a contract before it begins or before it has been fulfilled by the following means.
By mutual agreement – that means by resignation of the employee and acceptance by the employer – the employer being the school board.
By dismissal from employment for cause after a hearing is held and due process is provided the employee.
What are the reasons a contract of employment of a teacher, principal or other contract employee may be terminated before expiration?
State statute has some specific language in Section 37-9-59 that an employee may be dismissed for “incompetence, neglect of duty, immoral conduct, intemperance, brutal treatment of a pupil or other good cause…”
Additionally, general practice supports dismissal for insubordination; however, in any of the above instances the employee would be entitled to a hearing before the school board. Suspension with or without pay is usually addressed in school board policy and most often a suspension is with pay until the hearing.
Can I resign even if the principal or superintendent says they won’t accept my resignation?
First, the contract is between you and the legal entity – the school board and you are entitled to make your request directly to the board. Understand that the board will often seek a recommendation from the administration but may act independently to grant your request if they feel it is valid.
If you resign to accept employment in another state the district and state have no recourse; however, should you plan to work in another Mississippi district there could be possible recourse. State statute provides that if you abandon a contract your license can be suspended for one year. It is most unwise for the employee to seek release from contract near the beginning of school or during the school term. Professional courtesy would dictate that the new district would seek the release on your behalf.
What constitutes demotion?
The reassignment of an educator from one position to another having less responsibility or compensation would be a demotion. You may, under contract and law, be assigned to any area in which you have a valid certification. REMOVAL FROM AN ADDITIONAL DUTY, such as coaching, sponsor of cheerleaders or other performing groups has not been seen as a demotion by the courts.
Non-renewal of a contract under the “Education Employment Procedures Law of 2001.
Many of the “rules” educators had become familiar with under the old “SEPA – School Employment Procedures Act” were changed in 2001 with the new law. Most significantly are the rights of the employee to reasons and hearing in the first or second year of employment. Until an educator has been employed for two (2) continuous years in a Mississippi school district and one full year with the school district of current employment they do not meet the criteria defining an “employee” under the new law. Experienced educators changing districts where they qualify as an employee under this law should seek an initial two-year contract when changing districts as some protection under this new law in the new district.
Dates for notification of a non-renewal are: Superintendent by February 1, Principals by March 1. If the employee is a teacher, administrator or other professional educator covered under Sections 37-9-101 through 37-9-113, the superintendent, without further board action, shall give notice of non-reemployment on or before April 15, or within ten (10) days after the date that the Governor approves the appropriation bill(s) comprising the state's education budget for funding K-12, whichever date is later.
An employee (as defined in code) who is notified on non-renewal in writing must, within ten days, request, in writing, the specific reasons for the non-renewal, the factual basis for the action, a list of witnesses, and a copy of documentary evidence substantiating the reasons and the opportunity for a hearing before the board (or hearing officer).
You are entitled to representation by counsel (Part E of your MPE coverage) and you must provide the district, five days before the hearing, a response to the specific reasons for non-renewal, a list of witnesses and a copy of documentary evidence in support of the response. Failure to do any of this will make the recommendation of non-reemployment final without a hearing.
This new procedure is more like a legal proceeding with a discovery and exposure of any and all evidence that will be admissible at a hearing before the actual hearing is conducted. The need for legal counsel is greatly increased by the exchange of data prior to the actual hearing.