Arizona Teacher Contract Issues | Teachers Contracts
As of January 2022, the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association found that 31% of teacher vacancies remained unfulfilled.
Worse yet, that same report found that 47.7% of the vacancies filled were by those who did not meet the state’s standards for certification.
A significant exodus of teachers from the Arizona school system is currently underway, and few are concerned enough about making the changes that are necessary to fix this. With this in mind, all educators need to ask themselves what they can do if they encounter contract issues with their local employer.
Are There Deadlines for When a School District Must Offer Contracts?
Many teachers work on a year-to-year basis per the contract that they sign. Some receive multi-year deals, but it is often the case that teachers must agree to the terms of their agreement each year. They may not receive a contract offer if they do not meet the school’s standards or are no longer needed.
It used to be the case that there were specific laws about when a teacher must be offered a contract or not, but that hasn’t been the case statewide since 2009. Certain districts may use their discretion to create rules about when teachers need to be offered contracts. Still, it is not guaranteed to them right off the bat.
Educators must be notified before the new school year begins about their status as educators within the system. It is only fair for them to receive guidance about what to expect for the year ahead.
How Long do Educators Have to Sign Their Contract?
The time to sign one’s contract or not as an educator in Arizona is surprisingly short. The individual has just 15 business days from receiving their contract to make a decision. They have two options for how they may sign the contract.
They can either:
- Sign and return the agreement within the 15 business day time period
- Send a letter accepting the terms of the agreement to the governing board
Most teachers find it much easier to sign their contract and send it back in. However, one shouldn’t necessarily be too quick to sign any document that comes their way. They need to be sure that they receive the proper terms of their contract before agreeing to sign off on it.
After all, everyone wants to ensure they receive a fair deal. The only way to be positive about that fact is to have an attorney review every detail of the contract to ensure you fully understand it.
Is it Easy for Teachers to Walk Away from Their Contracts?
People who work in other professions may have a reasonably easy time walking away from their contracts when they want to. They merely need to decide that they have had enough and throw in the towel.
However, things are more challenging for teachers on this front, and that is for various reasons. It is the case that teachers have a more difficult time walking away because their contracts are often set up in such a way that makes it challenging for them to disentangle themselves from those contracts.
On top of that, they must also consider everything they may leave behind when they choose to leave the profession.
- Their Classroom – They have set up their classroom just how they would like it to be and may not be able to find that kind of working environment in any other job they have. Thus, it is necessary to ensure that the educator thinking about making a leap like this knows what they are doing before they opt to move on.
- Their Students – Walking away from the students they have taught for so many years is something that many educators have a very challenging time dealing with. An emotional bond forms between teachers and their students, and it is not easy to leave that behind. Even if a teacher only spends an hour or so per day with the student, they are shaping that student’s life in ways that go well beyond the classroom.
- Their School – Many people develop emotions of connection with the school they teach at. Those who have been at a particular school for a long time may begin to feel like the school is a second family for them, and this may encourage them to remain at the school and continue teaching for a long time. It is imperative to consider this when thinking about leaving as well.
The emotional connections that one has when thinking about leaving the school environment is one thing, but it is also essential to consider that the contracts drawn up are a challenge to get out of as well.
All educators should ensure they understand this before they leap to get out of a contract they have already signed. It is going to take more work than they might have hoped.
Why Getting a Lawyer to Look at Your Contract Makes Sense
Signing a contract to become an educator is serious.
It is okay to have a lawyer look over things before you put that pen to paper. Just ensure you’ve had the opportunity to look at everything the employer presents to you in your contract. It is the only way to ensure that your contract will work to your best advantage.
At Chelle Law, we have numerous contract lawyers who are more than happy to review your contracts and ensure you get the best deal possible. Educators are one of our most valuable resources, and it is a shame if they are not treated fairly in the contract process.
Please get in touch with us and let us help sort out the contract process for you today.
Other Blogs of Interest
- Arizona Reporting of Teacher Criminal Convictions
- Arizona Teacher Unprofessional Conduct Dismissal | Arizona Teachers
- How Long Are Teacher Contracts in Arizona?
What Does an Arizona Teacher’s Employment Contract Include? | Teachers Contracts
What does a teacher employment contract in Arizona include?
In general, they’re slim. Usually, they’re only a couple of pages long and bare-bones, but I will go over the basics and what I have seen from educators who have been my clients.
First, typically your salary is outlined there. Now, salaries are generally not negotiable with districts. They’re standardized. They offer you a specific amount, which your contract will outline.
Then it will go into how you receive that salary. Are you paid over 12 months? Or are you paid throughout the school year as a teacher in Arizona? And in the summer, you wouldn’t receive any funds, so you’ll want to double-check that so you know, and you can adequately budget for those funds over the year.
Signing Bonus or Relocation Expenses
Especially if you’re coming from out of state to Arizona, sometimes the school district will pay you a signing bonus or relocation expenses. It’s usually not too much. It’s around a thousand; that’s what I’ve been seeing.
But if you are coming in, they may offer you a bonus. Now, if you receive that bonus, there are always some types of repercussions. If you terminate your contract, you will likely have to pay it back, sometimes with interest. So, you’ll want to read your agreement very carefully.
Then the contract itself will state how long it’s for. It’s generally for the entire school year. It’ll have a start date, which would be some time, usually in August if you’re in the Phoenix or valley area. And it typically ends at the end of May and has a specific date on there, and you are required to provide services within those dates. You cannot break your contract.
How Can the District Terminate the Employment Contract?
The next thing you want to look out for is that the school district has some for-cause termination. It means, and it’s customarily listed, there are examples. If you are under investigation or lose your license with the state of Arizona, they may be able to terminate the contract.
If you harm a student or do something very egregious, or you are convicted of a crime, they may be able to terminate the contract immediately. You’ll want to read those through very carefully.
However, one thing missing from teachers’ contracts is a without-cause termination, which means you may not terminate your contracts for any reason. You must fulfill your contract for the remaining school year.
And if you don’t, there are consequences outlined in your contract as well. Commonly, those are called liquidated damages, which are a specific amount of money you owe to the district if you leave mid-year.
Those amounts of money are calculated differently. Sometimes it’s a percentage of how much your salary, and you’ll have to pay that back. Other times it’s just a specific amount, and I’ve seen even up to $10,000.
So, you want to read that very carefully to know what the consequences are if you leave.
How Can You Terminate an Employment Contract?
Also included in a teacher’s contract, sometimes exceptions would allow you to terminate your contract. They’re very slim, and there’s a narrow category of things.
It’s normal to take a leave of absence for your health or a family member. I’ve seen one if you move out of state, they’ll allow you to break your contract, which is odd. But really, that’s about it.
Also, if the school district breaches its contract, let’s say they’re not providing services that they agree to, not paying you properly, or offering things you both agreed upon in your contract, you may be able to break it.
But again, you want to be careful.
What Services Are You Going to Provide?
So, we have your salary, how the district can terminate the contract, and how you can terminate the agreement. Typically, it’s what services you’re going to be providing. And by that, I mean, what grade are you teaching? What are you teaching?
There’s usually a language that says you would adhere to all the school district’s policies. That’s important. You want to ensure you’re reading all the employee handbooks and policies. I have seen this come up when it’s talking about the discipline of students.
You want to ensure you know the school’s policy on how they prefer to discipline the students. Among other things, that’s just one that I’ve seen come up often.
There’s also language that you must adhere to by all the regulations of the state board of education. Again, it’s slim. But usually, it’s just how and what they pay you, how you cannot get out of it, how the school district can get out of it, and how long you’re contracted for.
I always recommend reading your contract very carefully and considering the consequences if you cannot fulfill this contract before you sign it.
I’ve even had clients bring me contracts I’ve gone over with them so that they fully understand what they’re signing. Because this time, with the friction between educators, school districts, and the state board of education here in Arizona, they must fully understand what they’re signing as they will be contracted for the whole school year.
And it’s complicated and stressful to get out of if you change your mind later.
Can an Arizona Teacher Break Their Contract Mid-Year? | Breaking Contracts
Can a teacher break their employment contract during the school year here in Arizona?
The answer is they can, but they may open themselves up to paying damages to the school district.
Liquidated Damages Clause Could Follow a Teacher After Breaking a Contract
Some employment agreements for teachers in their school district have a “liquidated damages clause.”
It states that if teachers break their employment agreement during the school year, they will have to pay that district thousands of dollars. The contract includes this because if a teacher leaves mid-year, the school district is left without a teacher. So, they will have to recruit to find someone to start immediately. If not, they’ll have to pay the substitute for those costs and if they need to advertise a position within a short period. That’s kind of what covers that.
You should always look first in your employment agreement to see if there is a liquidated damage clause in your employment agreement.
Law About Arizona Teachers Unprofessional Act
Also, the teacher should know that Arizona law states that a certified teacher shall not resign after signing and returning their contract. Unless the governing board first approves the resignation.
A teacher who leaves contrary to this section shall be deemed to commit an unprofessional act. And upon request of the governing board, shall be subject to such disciplinary action, including suspension or revocation of the certificate as a State Board of Education deems appropriate.
It means you are not only subject to potentially paying the school district thousands of dollars. The school district can also report that teacher to the State Board of Education, and the board could investigate their license. This situation is serious. And it’s becoming more and more of a concern just because of the pandemic, the shortage of teachers, and the teacher’s salary is low.
In Education, 12% Involve Teachers in Breaching Contracts
And so, suppose you find a district willing to pay you more and closer to home. In that case, there could be various reasons you would consider an offer at a different location.
However, you must ensure you do it properly by referring to your employment agreement to see if there are any sort of damages like financially that you would have to be paying.
You would also want to be released by the school board because they can report you. It is a growing trend. The Arizona State Board of Education has said that up to 12% of their current investigations involve teachers breaching their contracts.
And it’s a pressing thing. So, you want to make sure, I know I said this before, that you want to do it properly. Refer to your employment first. And then, you want to get the board’s approval. I know it’s a tough decision and a hard time for educators.
Everything with COVID puts more stress on teachers. They’re understaffed, underpaid, and could be in a difficult position, and you want to leave, but you can’t.
What Happens If I Break My Teaching Contract in Arizona?
What happens if a teacher breaks their employment contract? I’m speaking about educators K-12 in the public school setting here in Arizona.
Usually, the school hands you your employment contract before the school year starts or before February. You’ll sign the Arizona teacher contract, and then you’re locked in for the next school year.
So, what happens after you sign it if you need to break it?
There’s usually no way out if you need to break that contract. There’s no without cause termination. You must provide services for the following school year because there’s a mass exodus of educators. And there’s a lot of tension between educators and the school district.
Legal Consequences of Breaking Teacher’s Contracts
It’s tough to break your contract without getting any consequences. The consequences I’m talking about could be at the school district level. It means that sometimes teacher employment contracts have a liquidated damage clause.
If you break your agreement and leave or choose not to fulfill your contract after signing it, you may be required to pay back a portion or a percentage of your salary. Sometimes there’s a specified amount, which can even be about $10,000. Always read your employment contracts carefully to ensure those clauses aren’t there.
So, one, there could be financial consequences. Two, your school board or governing board may report or file a complaint against you with the State Board of Education.
A teacher breaking their contract mid-year can be considered unprofessional conduct, and there may be consequences against your license. There are some exceptions. Some school districts specify that you must take a family leave if a family member has become ill.
Then, sometimes if you move out of the state, they give examples. And if you fall within one of those categories, you may be able to break your contract. If not, you are at the mercy of your school district. They must release you from your contract. Otherwise, it would be reportable to the State Board of Education. And therefore, there could be action against your license to teach.
Mitigating Damages Information
Now, again, I’m speaking in general about the public school district. Sometimes charter or private schools are a little different, depending on your contract. It also depends on when you break your contract.
If you sign it and they have plenty of time to fill your position or offer to stay until they fill it, sometimes that can be slightly different. It’s called mitigating damages. You’re helping the school district, so they are not out, and you’re not abandoning their classroom.
There are lots of different factors and things in play. Timing is essential.
Also, if the school district is breaching its contract, they’re not providing the services it agreed for you. They’re making you do things you’re not contracted to do or not paying you—stuff like that may be considered a breach of contract. And that’s another way you may be able to end your employment with them during a mid-school year. But again, these things are very fact sensitive.
There’s a lot of tension between educators and school districts. I always recommend that you advise an attorney familiar with these situations to prevent yourself from having any restrictions on your license so that you can continue being an educator.
Arizona Teacher License Defense Questions?
Complaints, Investigations, Appeals and more!