Timing Essential for Administrator Contract Renewal

By Malina Piontek, Attorney, LLC

December 15, 2021

For administrators in Wisconsin, late December/early January is a time when school boards consider administrator contract renewal and nonrenewal for the following year. Why is this time frame so important? State law requires principal contracts to be in writing and filed with the school district clerk. It also establishes a specific process by which such contracts will be renewed, or not be renewed. This Update Bulletin will cover the essentials of Wisconsin’s administrator contract law (Wisconsin Statute 118.24, also referred to in this Update as the “administrator contract law”), and the steps you need to take to protect your contract rights. 


In order to nonrenew a principal’s contract, a school board must comply with all of the statutory requirements, which includes strictly adhering to its timelines. For most contracts, the first deadline mandated by state law for school boards to take action is in a little over a month: Monday, January 31, 2022.  

I say “for most contracts” because per Wisconsin’s administrator contract law  the timelines for renewal and nonrenewal work backwards from the expiration date of an individual administrator’s contract. A school board must provide a principal with a preliminary notice of nonrenewal in writing by registered mail, at least five (5) months prior to the expiration of the contract.  For example, for a contract ending on June 30, 2022, the board must provide the principal with the required preliminary written notice by January 31, 2022. However, if you have a contract with a different expiration date, because, for example, you were hired later in summer, you must count backward five months from its expiration date. Assuming an expiration date of August 15, 2022, your school board must issue you a preliminary notice of nonrenewal on or before March 15, 2022. 

Keep in mind that a board may only nonrenew a contract that is in its expiration year. This means that if you have a contract that expires on June 30, 2023, you’re not in the final or expiration year of your contract, and nonrenewal is not an option for the board. For ease of reference we’ll stick with the common contract expiration date of June 30, 2022, for purposes of this Update.

In addition to meeting the five-month date, a school board must also provide preliminary notice in writing and it must be provided by registered mail. So, if a board tells you that it is issuing you preliminary notice on January 31, 2022, but doesn’t put it in writing, it has not met the minimum, mandatory statutory requirements. 

Furthermore, if the notice isn’t provided to you by registered mail on or before January 31, 2022, the board also has not met the minimum, mandatory statutory requirements. Keep in mind that registered mail is not the same as certified mail, general mail, or email. And handing you a preliminary notice letter does not comply with the law either. 

The administrator contract law also sets forth what a preliminary notice of nonrenewal needs to say. First, the board must advise that it is considering nonrenewal of the contract. Keep in mind that the preliminary notice is not final action. It is simply to notify the administrator that it is considering not continuing a contract for the next year. The notice must also advise that if the administrator files a written request with the board within seven (7) days after receiving the notice, the person has a right to a hearing before the board prior to being given written notice of refusal to renew the contract. That’s all the statute requires to be included in a preliminary notice of nonrenewal. 

If an administrator receives preliminary notice of nonrenewal, s/he has the right to request a hearing before the board, as well as a right to request the reasons upon which the board is considering nonrenewal. The administrator’s request must be made within seven (7) days after receiving the preliminary notice; and must also include a statement requesting either a private or a public hearing before the board. When an administrator requests the reasons that the board is considering nonrenewal, the board must provide them in writing to the individual prior to the hearing. 

The law provides that no person may be dismissed except by a majority vote of the full membership of the school board. Thus, the vote on a contract nonrenewal must be approved by a majority vote of the full membership of the board, even if all of the school board members are not present at the meeting. 

Ultimately the board must issue a final notice of contract nonrenewal. Final notice must be given at least four (4) months prior to the expiration of the individual’s contract, or Monday, February 28, 2022. 


If a school board fails to meet either of these two key dates – January 31 or February 28 – that board may not move forward with nonrenewal.  If your current contract expires on June 30, 2022, and January 31 rolls around but you haven’t received a preliminary notice in writing by registered mail, your administrator contract is intact, and may have even rolled over.  The administrator contract law specifically provides that if no notice is given by a board, the contract then in force shall continue in force for two years. This is true even if the original contract was only for one year. However, the downside of this automatic rollover is that the “contract then in force” continues as is – think same salary and benefits, for example -  unless mutually modified by the parties. This means that you should be prepared to discuss changes to your contract with the board, such as salary. Once changes have been agreed upon, a new contract should be issued and signed by both parties. 

When a contract rolls by operation of the administrator contract law, a principal should advise the board in writing whether s/he accepts or rejects the contract. And, of course, the law provides a timeline by which a principal needs to do that:  three (3) months prior to the contract expiration. The specific statutory language reads: 

Any such person who receives notice of renewal or who does not receive notice of renewal or refusal to renew the person's contract at least 4 months before the contract expiration shall accept or reject the contract in writing on or before a date 3 months prior to the contract expiration.

Therefore, using our standard example, a principal must notify the board in writing on or before Wednesday, March 30, 2022, that s/he accepts or rejects a two-year contract covering the 2022-2023 and 2023-2024 contract years. 

While there is no case law addressing this specific part of the administrator contract law, a principal puts him- or herself at risk by not writing to the board by the deadline to inform it that s/he accepts the two-year contract. A board could argue that failure to provide the board with written notice by the deadline voids the contract. In short, provide the board with written notice that you accept a two-year contract before Wednesday, March 30, 2022. It may feel awkward to write to the board rather than your superintendent, but the law requires you to do so. Here is a sample letter to use:

As you can see from the sample letter, this is the time to renegotiate substantive provisions and clarify any unclear language in your contract. School boards may not make unilateral changes in an administrator contract, as the law specifically mentions mutual modification by the parties rather than unilateral modification by the board. Substantive changes which must be agreed to by both parties include items such as salary, number of contract days, contributions to health insurance premiums, number of sick and vacation days, reimbursement for tuition, and early retirement provisions. Pay attention to other provisions in the contract that may need to be modified or re-negotiated at renewal time, such as professional development, attendance at conferences, job title and description, liquidated damages in the event of a contract breach, post-retirement benefits and standards for dismissal (whether just cause, arbitrary and capricious or another standard).  

As is the case for nonrenewal, the law likewise provides that no person may be employed except by a majority vote of the full membership of the school board. Thus, a vote on the renewal of a contract, or the offer of a new or modified contract, must be approved by a full majority of the board.

In sum, if this is the last year of your contract and it expires on June 30, 2018, mark these dates in your calendar: 

January 31, 2022, Preliminary Notice of Nonrenewal
February 28, 2022, Final Notice of Nonrenewal
March 30, 2022, Written Notice to the Board Accepting or Rejecting Contract

If you have any questions about your contract, or the renewal/nonrenewal process, call me at the Hotline or email me at [email protected]. I’d be happy to answer your questions!

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. 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. 

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