Late fall is when school boards often consider their options regarding administrator contracts for the following school year. An administrator employment contract cannot simply be allowed to “run out”; rather, there are specific procedures that must be followed if a school board would like to terminate its relationship with an administrator at the end of a contract. This Legal Update will review some important information regarding administrator contracts, non-extension and non-renewal procedures and deadlines, and best practices to protect the school district and the administrator.
The restrictions, procedures, and deadlines set forth in Wis. Stat. § 118.24 apply to employment contracts between a school board for a Wisconsin public school district and a school district administrator. The term school district administrator includes district administrators or superintendents and assistant or associate district administrators or superintendents, principals and assistant or associate principals, business administrators, personnel administrators, curriculum administrators and assistant or associate personnel administrators, and curriculum administrators. Often, by contract, school boards agree to utilize the restrictions, procedures, and deadlines set forth in Wis. Stat. § 118.24 for employment contracts with Directors of Buildings and Grounds, Transportation Directors, Information Technology Directors, Food Service Directors, and other department heads employed in the district.
Wis. Stat. § 118.24(6) provides that no school board may enter into a contract of employment with an administrator for the period of time when the administrator is under a contract of employment with another school board.
Wis. Stat. § 118.24(1) explains that employment contracts for administrators may not exceed a term of two years, but a contract for a term of two years may provide for one or more extensions of one year each. As a result of this provision, most employment contracts for administrators are for a period of two years and most contracts use a contract year commencing on July 1, and continuing through June 30. Some employment contracts for administrators are for only one year and an increasing number of employment contracts for administrators cover a period of two years and offer one-year extensions. A limited number of contracts for administrators are always for a period of two years because, every day, the contract extends for another day.
Wis. Stat. § 118.24(6) provides that no administrator may be employed or dismissed except by a majority vote of the full membership of the school board.
In order to determine the steps that a school board must take into order to non-renew an administrator’s contract, it is necessary to, first, review the contract to determine the term of the contract. If the contract includes extension language, the school board must review the contract to resolve whether the extension language requires the school board to take action to issue the one-year extension or requires action of the school board to stop the extension from occurring. If the contract language includes an extension that is automatic, unless the school board takes action to stop the extension from occurring, then the first step is for the school board to meet, during a properly posted school board meeting to discuss and take action to non-extend the administrator’s contract. Typically, the school board must notify the administrator, in writing, of the school board’s action, which effectively establishes an expiration date for the contract. This expiration date is important because it drives the deadlines for contract non-renewal.
Wis. Stat. § 118.24(7) requires a school board to issue preliminary notice of contract non-renewal, in writing, by registered mail at least five months prior to the expiration of such contract. If the administrator contract expires on June 30, preliminary notice of contract non-renewal must be issued by January 31. For contracts with other expiration dates, it is important to calculate the date when preliminary notice of contract non-renewal is due. In order to issue preliminary notice of contract non-renewal to an administrator, the school board must meet and take action during a properly posted school board meeting. Depending upon the circumstances, this discussion and/or action may occur during a closed session portion of the meeting. If preliminary notice of contract non-renewal is not issued, the administrator contract automatically renews for a period of two years.
Upon receipt of written preliminary notice of contract non-renewal, the administrator has seven calendar days to file a written request with the school board for a hearing before the school board prior to being given final written notice of contract non-renewal. The administrator’s written request for a hearing must include a statement indicating whether the administrator is requesting a private hearing or a public hearing before the school board. The administrator may also request the reasons upon which the school board is considering contract non-renewal. If requested, the administrator is entitled to receive those reasons, in writing, before the hearing before the school board.
Wis. Stat. § 118.24(6) requires the school board to provide written final notice of contract non-renewal to the administrator at least four months prior to the expiration of the employment contract. If the administrator’s contract expires on June 30, that deadline is February 28/29 (depending upon whether it is a leap year). For contracts with other expiration dates, it is important to calculate the date when final notice of contract non-renewal is due. This decision requires the school board to meet and take action during a properly posted school board meeting. If final notice of contract non-renewal is not issued, the administrator contract automatically renews for a period of two years.
The administrator contract non-renewal procedure can be time consuming and divisive in a community. For an administrator, having their contract non-renewed can create obstacles when seeking new employment in another school district. As a result, most school boards and school district administrators seek to avoid the contract non-renewal process. For any school board or district administrator/superintendent considering the non-renewal of an administrator’s contract, it is advisable to start with a conversation between the supervisor and the administrator to determine whether an amicable agreement may be reached to effectuate the administrator’s resignation from employment in the school district. Often, the parties are able to reach an agreement that satisfies the needs of the school district and of the administrator. However, because of the importance of such an agreement, it is advisable for school district officials to work with legal counsel to draft or, at the very least, review the agreement before it is signed by the parties.
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or your Renning, Lewis & Lacy attorney.
Shana R. Lewis
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