To what extent may a school district discipline a tenured teacher without triggering the time-consuming and expensive mandatory provisions of the Teacher’s Tenure Act, e.g., written charges, board of education action, suspension with pay, full evidentiary hearing before an administrative law judge, legal briefs, and final decision of the Tenure Commission?
Certainly, oral and written reprimands and paid suspensions have never been subject to the jurisdiction of the Tenure Commission, while discharges and demotions have always, and continue to, require full compliance with the Tenure Act.
However, disciplinary salary reductions and unpaid disciplinary suspensions, may or may not be subject to the Tenure Act, i.e. constitute demotions, depending upon the size of the reduction or the length of the suspension.
Prior to the adoption of 2011 Public Act 100, The Tenure Act defined “demote”, in relevant part, as follows:
The word “demote” means to reduce compensation for a particular school year by more than an amount equivalent to 3 days’ compensation. … Article I, Section 4, MCL 38.74
Even though this definition of “demote” contained no reference to suspension whatsoever, school districts commonly elected to impose disciplinary suspensions up to 3 days, as through such action constituted a reduction in compensation/salary. Little, if any, use of an actual salary reduction without a corresponding suspension from work, occurred.
In enacting 2011 Public Act 100, the Legislature redefined the word “demote”, in two ways. First, the salary reduction equivalent was expanded from 3 to 30 days. Secondly, unpaid suspensions were expressly added as a disciplinary alternative and, if less than 15 consecutive work days in duration, were not subject to Tenure Act jurisdiction:
The word “demote” means to suspend without pay for 15 or more consecutive days or reduce compensation for a particular school year by more than an amount equivalent to 30 days’ compensation … Article I, Section 4, MCL 38.74
Thus, it appears that the Legislature, within 2011 Public Act 100, has clearly provided school districts with the option to discipline tenured teachers by way of direct salary reduction (less than 31 days equivalency) or unpaid suspension from work (less than 15 days), without bringing the Teachers’ Tenure Act into play.
These two disciplinary alternatives, and especially that of salary reduction which permits educational continuity, are of substantial impact and value. LA clients are increasingly considering, and imposing, substantial disciplinary salary reductions of less than 31 days, without, to date, receiving a teacher/union challenge before the Tenure Commission.
Given that teacher discipline is now a prohibited subject of bargaining and thus not subject to the contractual grievance procedure, it is unclear as to why use of substantial salary reductions, without suspension, and/or longer suspensions without pay, are not more commonly utilized as disciplinary measures.
A word of caution. Districts should review, and if necessary, modify their individual teacher employment contracts to assure that such do not interfere with the ability to assess disciplinary salary reductions.