Administrator Contracts: Annual Reminders

By Malina Piontek, Attorney

Wisconsin law requires school boards to contract with administrators, in writing, as well as to comply with specific contract renewal and nonrenewal procedures and deadlines.  Since December, principals have been increasingly calling AWSA’s legal hotline with questions about administrator contracts and these statutory requirements. The first weeks of January have seen a flurry of contract questions as well. This Update is designed to provide principals with essential information about individual principal contracts, their terms, and the timelines for renewal and nonrenewal of these contracts.

Statutory Requirement for Written Principal Contracts 

Wisconsin has a long history of school boards entering into contracts with their employees, including teachers, principals and superintendents, as a means of defining the basic terms of the relationship: how much a school board will pay an individual for services provided over a set period of time – usually a school year. The essence of the contractual relationship between school boards and its employees is stability for students, parents, teachers, principals, superintendents and the school board during a school term. 

State law requires principal contracts to be in writing and filed with the school district clerk. Wis. Stat. §118.24(6).  The term of each contract may not exceed two years, and one year contracts are permitted. Two-year contracts may provide for “one or more extensions of one year each.”   Wis. Stat. §118.24(1).  The statute also sets forth a procedure for school boards to use when nonrenewing administrator contracts; however, the statutory procedure can only be used in the last year of an administrative contract.

Contract Renewal

A school board can renew an administrator contract by giving at least four months’ notice (from the expiration date) in writing of the board’s intent to renew the contract.  The school board may take no action, in which case the contract is automatically extended for two years. In either case, the administrator shall accept or reject the renewal or automatic extension of his or her contract in writing at least three months prior to the contract expiration. (See Written Acceptance below.) 

Preliminary Notice of Nonrenewal: January 31, 2017

In order to nonrenew a principal’s contract, the school board must comply with all of the statutory requirements, which includes strictly adhering to its timelines. The statute works backwards from an individual contract’s expiration date, which for purposes of this article will be June 30, 2017, although it may vary.

The school board must provide a principal with a preliminary notice of nonrenewal in writing by registered mail, at least five months prior to the expiration of the contract.  For example, for a contract ending on June 30, 2017, the board must provide the principal with the required preliminary written notice by January 31, 2017.    

The statute provides that a principal has a right to a hearing before the board prior to be given written notice of refusal to renew his/her contract, as follows:           

if such person files a written request with the board within 7 days after receiving such notice, the person has the right to a hearing before the board prior to being given written notice of refusal to renew the contract. The written request for a hearing shall include a statement requesting either a private hearing or a public hearing before the board. . . . If a hearing concerning nonrenewal of the contract is requested, the reasons upon which the board is considering nonrenewal may also be requested and the board shall furnish such reasons before the hearing in writing.

Should you be issued a preliminary nonrenewal notice in a timely fashion, you have the right to request a public or private hearing before the board prior to being given final notice of refusal to renew the contract.  You also have the right to request a statement of reasons for the proposed nonrenewal, which must be provided to you in writing prior to the hearing. 

If you want a statement of written reasons for the proposed non-renewal, a request for the statement should be made as part of the hearing request.  Be sure to specify whether you want a public or private hearing.  The request must be made within seven days after receiving the preliminary nonrenewal notice.  The statute does not specify whether the seven-day requirement is seven calendar days or seven business days.  To preserve your rights, it is wise to use seven calendar days.

Final Notice of Nonrenewal: February 28, 2017

A board’s action to nonrenew a principal’s contract must be by a majority vote of the full membership of the board. A final notice of renewal or non-renewal of the contract must be issued at least four months prior to the contract’s expiration date or, in this example, February 28, 2017. 

Unlike preliminary notice, the statute does not require final notice to be given to the individual by registered mail, but does required notice to be given in writing.

Failure of the Board to Act Timely, or At All

If the specific statutory deadlines for preliminary notice and final notice of nonrenewal are not met, the principal’s current contract continues in force for another two years, by operation of statute.   This is true whether the underlying contract is for a one-year term, ora two-year term. 

In addition, if the board does nothing at all, the principal’s current contract continues in force for another two years, by operation of statute.   Again, this is true whether the underlying contract is for a one-year term, ora two-year term.

If the board fails to act, or misses a deadline, a principal should not accept a one-year contract, because by virtue of the law, the underlying contract has rolled over for two years. Most contracts contain a provision that states that the parties may mutually agree to modify the contract. Thus, if you are offered a one-year contract after the board either misses a deadline or does nothing, you will have agreed with the offered modification of a two-year contract to a one-year contract. 

Contract Extensions 

Pursuant to statute, two-year contracts may provide for “one or more extensions of one year each.”   Wis. Stat. §118.24(1). Keep in mind that only two-year contracts can have extensions. A contract extension is the adding of one year to a principal’s two-year contract unless the school board takes whatever action is specified in the contract to prevent the extension. There is no just cause requirement for a board’s decision not to extend a principal’s contract.  

One-year contract extensions may be triggered, or not triggered, by an affirmative act of the school board.  For example, a contract might contain a provision stating that the contract will extend for a one-year period only if the school board gives the principal notice by a given date.   If a board in fact takes affirmative steps to notify the principal that it is permitting the contract to extend by the contractual deadline, then the contract will extend by its own terms for another year.  Likewise, if a school board takes affirmative steps to notify the principal that it will not allow the contract to extend by its own terms by the contractual deadline, the extension will not take effect. 

The flip side to a board taking affirmative steps to extend or not extend a contract is the situation where a board simply fails to address the extension situation by the contractual deadline.  In this example, a contract will automatically extend (or “roll over”) for one year if the board does not act by the deadline contained in the contract. For example, an automatic extension clause without board action may read as follows: 

Unless the school board shall decide on or before the 31st day of January of each calendar year that the term of this contract shall not be extended, the same will, without further action, be automatically extended for another year (that year being July 1-June 30) under the same terms and condition, subject to any salary or benefit adjustments, if any. Notice not to extend this contract for an additional year shall be given in writing, must be personally delivered or mailed on or before the 1st day of February prior to the next subsequent year.

If the board votes not to permit a contract to extend, or fails to take action to extend a contract, the board must still comply with all of the statutory non-renewal requirements (and deadlines) for providing preliminary and final notices of contract non-renewal during the final year of the contract.  If it fails to do so, the contract will automatically extend for a period of two years pursuant to statute. 

The decision not to extend a contract is entirely at the discretion of the school board, usually on the recommendation of the superintendent. There could be a variety of reasons that a board decides not to extend a contract such as there is a new superintendent and it wants to keep its staffing options open in the future; or it could a hint that there are performance issues or personality conflicts. 

There is no process to challenge a non-extension nor is a principal entitled to due process since there is still time left on the contract and there is similarly no deprivation of the economic benefits of the contract. This means that you are not legally entitled to notice of the reasons for the non-extension, or an opportunity to challenge the reasons. Furthermore, if you find yourself in this situation, you may not want to be provided with written notice of the reasons since that notice may be subject to disclosure under the public records law. 

In the circumstances of a non-extension, you should have a conversation with your supervisor about why this has happened and if there is any possibility for reconsideration. If not, it’s probably time to consider that the last year on your contract will be your last year in the district, and take a look around at other administrator positions as they become open. 

Written Acceptance

Principals who receive a notice of renewal of their contract, or who do not receive any notice, including notice of contract renewal or refusal to renew the contract within the statutory deadlines, are required to accept or reject the contract in writingon or before a date three months prior to the contract expiration. This is a very important, although often ignored, step in the renewal process. A principal who has received no notice at all must also take action to accept the contract in writing on or before April 30, 2017. 

Below is a sample letter that you may consider using as a guide to accept a new two-year contract. 

Sample Letter

Contract Ending June 30. 2017 

(Date)

(Name and address of school district)

  

Attention:  (School district clerk)

 

Dear_______________________:

My employment contract as___________(position title) _____________________expires on June 30, 2017.

Since I have not yet received a new contract, I am providing notice pursuant to section 118.24(6) of the Wisconsin Statutes that I accept an extension of my contract for an additional two years.

I would like to meet with the Board as soon as convenient to discuss the terms of my new contract as well as an adjustment of my compensation and benefits.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. I look forward to finalizing the terms of my new contract.

Sincerely yours,

(signature)

(date) 

Although it may feel uncomfortable to write the above letter to the school district clerk, it is strongly recommended that principals comply with the law and accept their contracts in writing within the statutory timeframe.

This article was written by Attorney Malina Piontek, AWSA’s Level I Legal Services Provider. You may direct your Level I call-in questions to Malina at 608-497-3037. You may email her at malina.piontek@pionteklaw.com. The views expressed herein are exclusively those of Ms. Piontek. This article was designed to provide you with general authoritative information and with commentary as a service to AWSA members. It should not be relied upon as legal advice. You are encouraged to contact your district legal counsel should you require legal advice regarding this topic. 

 

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