Harris v. Aldine ISD, Dkt. No. 029-R10-03-2015 (Comm’r Educ. Nov. 23, 2015).

Facts:  On June 19, 2014, the Aldine Independent School District teacher filed a grievance alleging that the district improperly failed to give her a new contract for the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years.  The district’s board denied this grievance on August 19, 2014.  The teacher did not appeal that decision to the Commissioner.  On October 30, 2014, she filed a second grievance, claiming that (1) her appraisal was improper because the new evaluation system was poorly implemented, (2) her contract should have been extended, and (3) she should have received more compensation.  When the second grievance was denied, the teacher filed an appeal to the Commissioner of Education.  On appeal, she raised additional claims not included in the second grievance that the district discriminated against her and that emergency permits were improperly activated.

Ruling:  The Commissioner upheld the district’s decision to deny the teacher’s grievance and dismissed the appeal.  According to the teacher, the district generally employed teachers under two-year contracts and generally issued teachers a new contract every year.  However, she was not given a new contract for the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 school years, leaving her with a valid contract only for the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years.  The Commissioner concluded that jurisdiction did not exist over this issue because it was raised in a grievance that the board denied on August 19, 2014, and the woman did not appeal.  Because she did not appeal the August 19, 2014 decision, she failed to exhaust administrative remedies.  Her filing of a second grievance on October 30, 2014 could not resurrect the claims that she failed to appeal to the Commissioner when her first grievance was denied.

The teacher also claimed that the district improperly froze her salary.  The Commissioner’s jurisdiction under Texas Education Code 7.057(a)(2) is limited to violations of a written employment contract that cause or would cause monetary harm and violations of the school laws of this state.  The teacher did not identify any provision of her contract that was violated that may have resulted in her salary being frozen.   In relation to the salary freeze, she cited Texas Education Code section 21.352(e), requiring that a district use a teacher’s consecutive appraisals from more than one year, if available, in making employment decisions and developing career recommendations for a teacher.  Whether setting salary is an employment decision for purposes of Texas Education Code section 21.352(e) was assumed, but not determined in this decision.  However, according to the Commissioner, appraisals are not the only things that can be considered in making employment decisions and employment decisions are not required to be based on a finding that occurs in at least two appraisals.  The teacher needed to prove that the district did not consider at least two years of appraisals in making the decision to freeze her salary.  Applying the substantial evidence standard of review to the local record, the Commissioner held that she had not conclusively established that two years of appraisals were not considered in making the decision to freeze her salary.

Finally, the teacher claimed that she was discriminated against when she was not given a mathematics assignment and that individuals were improperly hired to teach mathematics on emergency permits.  Because she did not raise those issues in her grievance, she failed to exhaust administrative remedies as to those claims.  The Commissioner ruled in favor of the district.

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