LEGISLATIVE UPDATE

The Pennsylvania Legislature recently passed numerous amendments to the Pennsylvania Public School Code, which took effect Sunday without Governor Wolf’s signature. As part of our commitment to keeping the firm’s clients up-to-date on the most recent developments in the School Laws of the Commonwealth, Maiello, Brungo, & Maiello’s Education Law team has prepared the following summation of some of the most important parts of the law, and its effects on School Districts.

– SCHOOL DIRECTOR TRAINING PROGRAMS

Beginning with the 2018 – 2019 School Year, and continuing each year thereafter, every newly elected or appointed School Director must complete a training program developed by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. The training program must be completed during the first year of the newly elected or appointed School Director’s first term. The training program will consist of a minimum of four hours of instruction in academic programs, personnel, fiscal management, operations, governance, ethics, and the provisions of the Pennsylvania Sunshine Law. School Directors who have been reelected or reappointed to the Board are not exempt from this law. Those individuals must complete an advanced training program through the Department of Education, consisting of a minimum of two hours of instruction in changes to relevant federal and state education laws and regulations.

– REDUCTION OF TIMEFRAME TO RENEW SUPERINTENDENT’S CONTRACT

Under the amended School Code, the deadline for a School Board to make a decision on whether or not to renew the contract of a Superintendent or Assistant Superintendent has been reduced from 150 days prior to the expiration of the contract to 90 days prior to the expiration of the contract. Further, the new legislation limits the automatic renewal of such contracts to a single one-year renewal if the Board misses the renewal deadline.

– SUSPENSION OF PROFESSIONAL EMPLOYEES FOR ECONOMIC REASONS

In a significant change to the existing law, the School Code will now permit School Districts to suspend (furlough) professional employees for “economic reasons that require a reduction in professional employees.” The existing justifications for furlough of professional employees (decrease in enrollment, school consolidation, etc.) will remain in effect. If a School District chooses to furlough teachers for economic reasons, it must comply with additional procedures. First, a School District is prohibited from using a professional employee’s compensation in determining which employees to furlough. School Superintendents or other Administrators who knowingly approve a furlough based on employee compensation will be subject to administrative reprimands from the Secretary of Education. A School Board who approves a furlough of teachers for economic reasons must also suspend at least an equal percentage proportion of administrative staff. However, the Secretary of Education may waive this requirement if: 1. The Secretary determines that the District’s operations are sufficiently streamlined; 2. The Secretary submits this determination to the State Board of Education; and 3. The State Board of Education approves the Secretary’s determination by a majority vote. Additionally, the Board may select any five administrative staff positions, one of which must be the Business Manager or other comparable employee, which shall be exempt from the administrative furlough requirements.

The Board may only furlough teachers if it adheres to the following procedure. First, the Board must approve the proposed furloughs by a majority vote of all School Directors at a public meeting. Second, the Board must adopt a resolution of its intent to furlough the teachers for the following fiscal year no later than 60 days prior to the date of adoption of the final budget. The resolution must set forth the following: 1. The economic conditions of the District making the proposed furloughs necessary and how those economic conditions will alleviated by the proposed furloughs, including: (a) The total cost savings expected to result from furloughs; (b) A description of other cost-saving actions the Board has undertaken; (c) The projected expenditures of the District with and without the proposed furloughs; and (d) The projected total revenues of the District for the following fiscal year; 2. The number and percentage of employees to be furloughed who are professional employees assigned to provide instruction directly to students; 3. The number and percentage of employees to be furloughed who are administrative staff; 4. The number and percentage of employees to be furloughed who are professional employees who are not assigned to provide instruction directly to students and who are not administrative staff; and 5. The impact of the proposed furloughs on academic programs to be offered to students following the proposed furloughs, as well as the impact on academic programs to be offered to students if the proposed furloughs are not undertaken, compared to the current school year, and the actions, if any, that will be taken to minimize the impact on student achievement.

– SUSPENSION BASED ON PERFORMANCE EVALUATIONS

Prior to the revision of the School Code, the law required that any furlough of teachers had to be achieved on the basis of seniority. In a radical departure from this requirement, the School Code has been amended to permit the School Board to suspend teachers, within the areas of certification of the positions to be furloughed, based on a teacher’s two most recent annual performance evaluations. In short, teachers who received two consecutive unsatisfactory ratings pursuant to Section 1123 of the School Code would be furloughed first. Teachers with one unsatisfactory rating and one satisfactory rating in their two most recent annual performance evaluations would be the next to be furloughed. Next, teachers who received two satisfactory ratings in their two most recent annual performance evaluations, which were either consecutive ratings of “proficient” or a combination of one rating of “proficient” or “distinguished” and one rating of “needs improvement” would be the next to be furloughed. Finally, those teachers who received two satisfactory ratings in their two most recent annual performance evaluations, which were either consecutive ratings of “distinguished” or a combination of one rating of “proficient” and one rating of “distinguished” would be the last to be furloughed. Only when there are more professional employees receiving the same overall performance rating than there are positions to be furloughed, shall seniority within the school entity and within the area of certification for the teachers current position be used to determine the teacher to be furloughed. If a School District decides to reinstate teachers, the teachers would be reinstated in inverse order of the procedure described above. Very importantly, these provisions will not be subject to modification by collective bargaining agreements negotiated after the implementation of the law.

– LUNCH SHAMING

Under the provisions of the amended law, every School Board is mandated to establish a requirement for District schools to provide a lunch to a student who requests one, unless the student’s parent or guardian has specifically provided a written directive to the school to withhold lunch. Additionally, School Districts are now prohibited from publicly identifying or stigmatizing a student who cannot pay for a school meal or who owes money for school meals, requiring a student who cannot pay for a school meal to perform work to pay for the school meal, or requiring a student to discard a school meal after it was served to the student due to the students inability to pay for the meal.

In addition to the aforementioned provisions, some of the highlights of the new law are as follows:

– It extends the delay set by Act I of 2016 in implementing the Keystone Exams as a graduation requirement for an additional year until the 2019 – 2020 School Year.

– It extends the moratorium on the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s acceptance of new school construction projects (PlanCon) through the 2017 – 2018 School Year.

– It prohibits teacher preparation programs approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Education from requiring students to obtain a passing score on the Praxis Exams in order to graduate or as a condition of program completion.

– It requires schools to provide instruction to students in grades 6 through 12 in the prevention of opioid abuse, beginning with the 2018 – 2019 School Year. The new law instructs the Department of Health and Department of Education to develop and make available to schools model curriculum and in-service training programs to implement this law.

– It amends the truancy reform provisions under Act 138 of 2016 so that they will apply to nonpublic schools beginning with the 2018 – 2019 School Year. The provisions of Act 138 remain applicable to School Districts, Charter Schools, and Vocational-Technical Schools beginning with the 2017 – 2018 school year.

The new law contains additional provisions that Maiello, Brungo & Maiello’s Education Law team has not summarized in this update. The email you received contains a link to our website, where you can view the full bill. If you have any questions as to any of the provisions outlined above, as well as the entirety of the new law, please contact one of our Education Law Team Members.

Full text of the Bill