Question: My principal wants me to sign a probationary contract in lieu of termination.
Should I do this?
Answer: I’ll give the lawyer’s favorite answer: it depends. Keep in mind that Texas law provides a sliding scale of legal rights to teachers with the three different types of teaching contracts: probationary, term, and for the school districts which have them, continuing contracts. Once the contract year is up, a teacher with a probationary contract has no entitlement to continued employment, no entitlement to the specific reasons why the district does not wish to employ the teacher for another term, no entitlement to a hearing on the district’s decision to terminate, and no entitlement to any sort of review of the district’s decision. A term contract teacher facing termination is entitled to all these things, and a continuing contract teacher has even more rights.
Your term or continuing contract status is a reflection of your competence and years of service, so it obviously should not be relinquished lightly or when you are in a panic. Whether a teacher should accept a probationary contract in lieu of a termination or non-renewal will depend, in large part, on how strong the district’s case is for adverse action. It is quite possible that the district may not have sufficient reason to warrant termination or non-renewal and may simply be looking for an easy way out of the employment relationship at the end of the probationary period. The teacher may be well served by refusing the offer and saying to the district, in effect, “Put up or shut up.”
However, if it appears the district’s administration is truly prepared to move forward and that it has amassed enough evidence against the teacher to make it stick, a probationary contract is an option to consider. A probationary contract virtually eliminates a teacher’s employment protections at the end of the contract period; on the other hand, it provides another year of employment for the teacher in which she can work to improve performance, try to get transferred to a different campus or assignment, or look for another job and try to exit on more of the teacher’s own terms.
The Texas Legislature recently modified the existing probationary contract provisions in the Education Code. The amendments, which take effect September 1, 2003, may trigger more districts offering probationary contracts in lieu of termination or non-renewal. The new “Return to Probationary Status” law provides:
§ 21.106. Return to Probationary Status
(a) In lieu of discharging a teacher employed under a continuing contract, terminating a teacher employed under a term contract, or not renewing a teacher’s term contract, a school district, may with the written consent of the teacher, return the teacher to probationary contract status.
(b) Except as provided by Subsection (d), a teacher may agree to be returned to probationary contract status only after receiving written notice that the board of trustees of the school district has proposed discharge, termination, or nonrenewal.
(c) A teacher returned to probationary contract status must serve a new probationary contract period as provided by Section 21.102 as if the teacher were employed by the district for the first time.
(d) A teacher may agree to be returned to probationary contract status after receiving written notice of the superintendent’s intent to recommend discharge, termination, or nonrenewal. Notice under this subsection must inform the teacher of the school district’s offer to return the teacher to probationary contract status, the period during which the teacher may consider the offer, and the teacher’s right to seek counsel. The district must provide the teacher at least three business days after the date the teacher receives notice under this subsection to agree to be returned to probationary contract status. This subjection does not require a superintendent to provide notice of an intent to recommend discharge, termination, or nonrenewal.
If you find yourself in this situation, the first thing you should do is call your union representative, who will help you explore your options. Any decision you make will have lasting consequences on your career.