Don’t Be an April Fool


Mark April 15th on your calendars.  This is the date on which certificated staff members’ contracts automatically renew for the next school year in Nebraska.  The automatic renewal date is vitally important for two groups of certificated staff members:

Certificated Staff the District may NOT want back next year.  

If school administrators have concerns about the performance of a teacher or other NDE-certificated staff member (principals, SLPs, school psychs, nurses, etc.), they must decide before April 15th whether they want to proceed with the non-renewal or termination of the employee’s contract.  This deadline applies to any action on a teacher’s contract, including reductions in force.  In Bentley v. School District No. 25 of Custer County, 255 Neb. 404, 586 N.W. 2d 306 (1998), the Nebraska Supreme Court held that delivery of a non-renewal notice on April 16th was not sufficient statutory notice to a teacher, and constituted no notice at all.

If you have any reservations about whether to continue a certificated employee’s employment contract, you should contact your school district’s attorney promptly to discuss your legal options.  Your school attorney will want to review the employee's file and assist in preparing the proper notice documents if you decide to proceed with a possible termination or nonrenewal. Most importantly, they’ll be able to assess whether you have a legally sufficient case and whether legally (and politically) you can actually accomplish your recommended action.  Do not issue your own letters without first ensuring you’ve complied with the statutory and NDE Rules for evaluation, including whether sufficient “cause” exists if it is required by the tenure laws.

We have had some administrators ask us what they should put on the board’s agenda before delivering a notice of termination or non-renewal.  The short answer is “nothing.” The statute gives the superintendent the responsibility for notifying a certificated employee of proposed changes to his or her contract in most cases.  The board does not take action until after the staff member decides whether to request a hearing.

Certificated Staff the District DOES want back next year.

The April 15 deadline is also significant for staff members you want to continue in employment.  As a general rule, the April 15 deadline applies to both staff and the district. That means if a teacher has not told you that he/she is resigning for the next school year, he/she is also obligated to return to the district.  Now, this deadline can be extended either by board policy or your negotiated agreement. Some boards foolishly allow staff members to resign as late as May 1, May 15, or sometimes even June 1! Check your policy and negotiated agreement to see if you have extended this deadline voluntarily (and change it if you do).  The board cannot extend its deadline beyond April 15, even if it has extended the deadline for teachers to resign.

Board members and administrators should also know that it is not necessary for a teacher to sign a new contract in order to be bound for next year.  A certificated staff member’s contract is continuing, which means both parties are bound after April 15, unless your district has some policy or other provision that says otherwise.  Some schools use an “intent to return” letter or “renewal agreement” which is lawful, but not legally required.

For reasons we don’t understand, many boards pass a resolution rehiring all of their certificated staff for the next school year.  We strongly prefer that boards not do this.  Come April 15, teachers are automatically rehired if the board takes no action on their contract, so there is no real benefit to passing the resolution.  It’s a purely ceremonial function which becomes extremely awkward when a staff member is being considered for possible non-renewal or termination and the board passes a resolution re-hiring all of the staff members...except that one.  Worse yet, there is an argument that your ceremonial “renewal” vote could be used against the board if the staff member engages in misconduct after the board vote but before April 15.

If you have questions, we recommend that you consult with your school district’s attorney or call Karen, Steve, Bobby, or Coady.