New School Year Grab Bag

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The start of a new school year is always exciting, and also a little terrifying since there’s so much to do.  Here at KSB, we’re asking really important questions such as, “Will the Huskers win the Big Ten West on the strength of Tanner Lee’s right arm and Bob Diaco’s 3-4 defense?”  Steve says no, but he’s a Michigan fan so no one cares.

As you work through your beginning-of-the-year to-do lists and questions, here are a few things to consider:

Required Hearings, Notices, Trainings, and Reviews. 

Whether it’s student fees, parental involvement, dating violence, bullying, or others, state and federal law require schools to “review,” “collaborate,” “train,” and in some cases hold a “hearing” on various policies and topics.  You should make sure you’re crossing these items off your lists at board meetings and staff in-service days, if you haven’t already.  Our policy subscribers should review the document we provided entitled “Annual Notices 2017-18,” which lays out these requirements for reviews, hearings, trainings, etc.

Start Early on Possible Certificated Staff Personnel Cases

We often receive a call in February, March, or April about a teacher who has not been meeting district standards, in some cases for several years.  While early spring is not too late to do what’s best for kids—and we are very aggressive when prosecuting those cases if our clients think it’s best for kids—we almost always wish we had discussed them with our administrators earlier.  Beginning the teacher remediation and improvement process early is best for everyone involved.  It also makes sense – and is usually more cost-effective – to involve your school’s attorney early.  Often, poorly-performing teachers need to be told what to do with clarity, and attorneys can help administrators give directives that are both clear and obtainable.  A school attorney can also help the administrator craft an improvement plan that is both legally compliant and actionable by the teacher.  On the other hand, if the teacher does not make the required improvements, having your school attorney involved early can help the school move quickly into the non-renewal or termination process.  We believe schools are more likely to avoid a personnel hearing if the school attorneys are involved early in the process. While we treat each personnel case as though it could eventually lead to termination or non-renewal, we believe school attorneys can settle cases more easily and on better terms when the administration has involved legal early.

Our advice to administrators is to begin these conversations now, not in the second semester.  Principals, you should always know which staff members need to improve, what your evaluations say, and whether you are working toward building a legally sufficient case for termination if the teacher does not improve.  Superintendents, you should be asking all of your principals who their best and most underperforming teachers are and make sure their evaluations reflect it.  Board members, you should be encouraging your administrators to take the steps necessary to hold all staff members accountable to meet the standards which the board has set for your staff.

Finally, everyone should review their school board’s evaluation policy, handbook provisions, and evaluation instrument to make sure there are no unnecessary requirements.  First, make sure your administrators are using the evaluation instrument on file with the Nebraska Department of Education.  Second, make sure the policy and rubric does not require things which are not required by law.  We have seen far too many personnel cases where the administration failed to follow burdensome steps or where administrators distort the feedback they give teachers because of a poorly-designed instrument.  While evaluating administrators must follow the policy or practice adopted by the board, boards of education are always free to amend their policies.  Double-checking on all of this now you can help ensure the district isn’t tripped up in April on an issue that could have been spotted in September. 

PPACA (“Obamacare”) Insurance “Offers.” 

Despite the buzzwords “repeal and replace” being in the news a lot recently, Obamacare is still the law of the land.  It requires covered “large employers” to “offer” insurance to full-time staff on an “annual” basis.  Many schools have asked if that requires them to send out official “offer” documents to staff members each year.  The regulations do not specifically require a standalone offer document.  Plus, the vast majority of school employees have an established insurance offer through collective bargaining agreements.  However, as it relates to classified staff there are a few reasons why you may want to consider an offer/opt-out document this year.   

Things like the PPACA penalties and the cash-in-lieu rules are figured on an annual basis through PPACA reporting.  If you have a cash-in-lieu plan and aren’t setting it up as an “eligible opt-out arrangement,” then you could be subjecting yourself to risk of penalties under PPACA.  If you have no idea what “eligible opt-out arrangement” means, it’s probably a good time to call your school lawyer.

Additionally, individual employee eligibility (and any related penalties) are computed on an annual basis.  For most districts, this is established using the “lookback” aka “standard measurement” period to determine full-time status.  Since this could change from year to year, refiguring the status of your staff members right on the line of full-time status, and then providing an “offer” document to all full-time staff is a good contemporaneous record that you are complying with the hours tracking requirements and making an “annual” offer.

If you have any questions about these requirements or suggestions, you should contact your attorney or call Karen, Steve, Bobby, or Tim.  And if you see Steve at a conference, remind him that Jim Harbaugh is a flash in the pan!