KBS Reference Desk: Decrease in Compensation

Q: A teacher performed supplemental duties as the Journalism sponsor last year. There was a fiasco regarding yearbook ad sales, so she was not selected as sponsor for the 2018-2019 school year and will no longer receive supplemental duty pay. Her classroom teacher assignment and pay will not change because she is already at Step 20 on the salary schedule. Are we required to provide the teacher notice of the anticipated reduction in compensation before the school year begins? Even if it’s only a few hundred dollars?

A: Yes, employees should be provided written notice of any reduction in overall compensation between contract years 45 calendar days before the first day of instruction.

The Commissioner has held that school districts can “reduce an element of its teachers’ salaries after the unilateral resignation deadline as long as the teachers’ total compensation was not reduced.” Thus far, the Commissioner has not specifically excluded any one or more components of compensation in the calculation. As such, we recommend written notice of any reduction, however slight, occurring between contract years, whether the result of a reassignment, removal of a stipend or reduction in number of days worked. Timely notice requires communication to the employee in writing at least 45 calendar days prior to the first day of instruction. This rule follows the 45 day “penalty-free” resignation deadline, requiring a school district to give notice of an impending salary reduction while the educator still has time to contemplate the reduction and voluntarily resign. Tex. Educ. Code §21.210.

Note that if your district is beginning the school year early pursuant to a District of Innovation Plan, your 45 day deadline could be as early as mid-June. Circle this date on your calendar and ensure that all decisions are made regarding 2018-2019 assignments in sufficient time to meet this deadline. Also critical is the actual wording of the notice. The notice must be both formal and specific, e.g. it must come from someone in a position of authority and indicate the actual reduction or how much of a salary reduction is possible, if the actual amount is not known prior to the penalty-free resignation date. A notice indicating that the employee “will be paid according to a salary schedule adopted by the board” (or other vague terms) has been held insufficient. And only when an actual amount is provided will the grievance timeline begin.