It’s that contract time of the year again and I hear over and over some variation of the refrain “I remember when a teacher contract was one page.” That’s true. I remember that, too. In fact, I had one of those one page contracts when I was a newly hired teacher back in 1976 (yes, Virginia, there once was a time called the “seventies”). So, why, then, do contracts need to be so long now? The answer lies in our litigious society. A contract provides a frame work–if something is not addressed in the contract, litigation may result. Since the District is offering the contract, the failure to include something might be interpreted against the District. Looking at the prototype contract I’ve put together for the 2015-2016 District year, based upon contract language a number of District attorneys formulated together several years ago, I can personally recall events that resulted in the inclusion of some paragraphs. Other paragraphs are based on Attorney General opinions. Still others are based on the fact that the Arizona legislature was on a kick awhile back of either not getting the information regarding budgets to Districts in a timely basis, or, worse yet, sweeping funding from education resulting in Districts not receiving money they thought they would have.
For instance, because of the uncertainty of District finance, there are now at least three, and possibly up to five, paragraphs where there was once just one paragraph. The reason for this is that one paragraph deals with the salary the District expects to pay the teacher, and that would be all that would be needed–if all works out. Then we have a “money troll” paragraph that sets out how up to a certain dollar amount or a certain percentage of the salary we just listed might be taken away from the teacher. The money troll paragraph exists because the District may not receive all the money it expects to get from the state. If that happens, then the salary can be cut down to the amount listed. If the provision were not included, then salaries, the highest percentage of any District district’s budget, would remain, unchanged through the District year. The only cuts that could be made would be a reduction of at will positions, to student supplies and services, or to similar Maintenance and Operations (M&O) budget items.
Similarly, there is the option to include a “money fairy” provision. Sometimes additional funding is made available to Districts–through the legislature, through federal funding, through grants, or even through budgeting that turns up funding that was not needed for something else. This unexpected money could not be paid to teachers working under contracts without a money fairy provision because there is a state constitutional provision prohibiting extra pay for the same work a person has already been hired to perform. If the provision was not included in the contract and the District received the additional funds, it would have to require the teachers to do an additional project, attend an additional day of work, or do some other job that was not already required under the contract in order to receive the additional money.
Then there is the issue of a the District believing a person is receiving the right amount of money, but it turns out that either the person is being overpaid or the person is being underpaid. Due to several Attorney General opinions and the Constitutional prohibition against extra pay, if a person is being underpaid, the District can’t ordinarily start paying the person more than the person agreed to receive under the terms of the contract. On the other hand, if a person is being overpaid, then there are Attorney General opinions that require the District to recoup the amounts that are overpaid as a “gift of public funds.” 
In order to deal with these two issues, Districts often include a paragraph that allows the District to pay the teacher the amount the teacher is actually supposed to receive if the teacher is being underpaid, as long as the teacher notifies the District within a certain number of days. The paragraph also reminds the teachers that if they are overpaid, they will have to pay this amount back. Since it might otherwise be difficult to secure these funds, the contracts now also provide a provision to allow the District to take the additional funds from any money owed to the teacher. Because of a specific situation where a teacher was receiving family medical benefits for free due to a glitch in the enrollment, there is now a provision that requires repayment if a person is paid too much OR if the person receives a benefit for free for which the person would ordinarily be expected to pay.
How about that odd paragraph that says teachers may, in the sole discretion of the District, be provided with food and beverages during trainings as a “de minimus” fringe benefit? That came about because giving teachers a bagel and coffee at an in service was found to be a gift of public funds. Adding it to the contract allows, but doesn’t require, the District to provide that bagel and coffee.
There are also provisions about what will happen if:
- the person loses his or her fingerprint clearance during the term of the contract,
- something happens that changes the information the person gave to the District in the application and the person fails to inform the District of that change,
- the person is arrested for a dangerous crime against children and fails to report that arrest to the person’s supervisor,
- the person loses his or her teaching certificate during the year.
These, too, are issues that have either come up over the years, resulting in law suits, or that have resulted from statutory changes.
Can you go back to a one page contract? Sure. SHOULD you go back to a one page contract? No.
This blog should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice, please feel free to contact Candyce B. Pardee at 928.373.3409, log on to udallshumway.com, or contact an attorney in your area.
 Although A.R.S. §15-544 appears to allow reduction of salaries to effectuate economies in the District, this is only true for a future contract.
 Extra compensation clause, Art. IV, Part 2, Sec. 17, Arizona Constitution.
 Op. Atty. Gen. I83-115; Op. Atty. Gen. I87-103
 Gift of public funds clause, Art. 9, Sec. 7, Arizona Constitution.
 Op. Atty. Gen. I10-003 (R09-040)