This article appeared in the Summer 2020 edition of The Classroom Teacher.
As a public school teacher, librarian, counselor or nurse in Texas, the bulk of your annual salary is determined by your total number of years of service, normally in a Texas public school. However, a variety of educational entities and types of service are recognized for purposes of salary increments. Specific requirements and conditions must be met to acquire service credit for each type of entity recognized by the Texas Education Agency for this purpose, and for proper placement on the state’s minimum salary schedule.
Though beyond the scope of this article, questions about credit for salary increment purposes based on service at educational entities other than Texas public schools, as well as other concerns, should be addressed with a TCTA staff attorney. Professional school employees should also be aware that years of service for purposes of the state minimum salary schedule are different from years of service creditable for calculating benefits in the Teacher Retirement System. Different rules apply to TRS service credit, and such credit is not reflected in the teacher service record.
Texas Education Code section 21.403 (a) provides that a teacher, librarian, school counselor or nurse shall advance one step on the minimum salary schedule (through Step 20) for each year of experience in these designated positions. It is therefore important as a matter of law that all such years of experience are properly documented. This includes employment by a charter school. While charter schools are not required to abide by the state minimum salary schedule, creditable service may be earned for proper placement on the schedule by a school district. Any claim of service for salary increment purposes must generally document in writing:
TEA requires that all service claimed for salary increment purposes by professional employees of Texas public schools be documented on a teacher service record (TSR), identified by TEA as Form FIN-115 (find it here) or other similar document containing the proper information. Certain types of service may require supporting documentation in addition to recording of such on your TSR. Service records and any supporting documentation must be completed in ink or completed electronically and printed. Any use of white out will nullify the respective document.
A service record with a digital signature is only valid for the intended recipient as recorded on the TSR. A digital version including information from prior employing districts will be honored if the most recent employing district is the designated recipient of the information from these previous employers. Though the digital record will not be official if received by the educator, the district must provide a copy to the educator upon request.
The teacher service record must correctly indicate the total number of years of service provided to a given school district by the teacher, librarian, school counselor, or nurse. Importantly, the TSR must also contain a record of days used and accumulated under the former state sick leave program, as well as the current state personal leave program. Therefore, when educators change employers and begin service at a different school district, the TSR is the document used by the employing district not only to verify years of service credit for proper salary payment, but also the type and amount of leave currently available to the employee (in addition to any local leave granted by the district). The TSR must include the following information:
TEA rules provide that the district must allow teachers and other professional personnel ready access to their TSR and any required attachments. In addition, it is important that teachers and district administrative personnel understand that the TSR, though maintained by the school district during the employee’s term of service, is the property of the employee. If the TSR is requested by the employee upon separation from employment, the district must provide the original record, not a copy. The district should then maintain a copy pursuant to applicable legal requirements. Texas Education Code section 21.4031 (b) requires that upon the request of a teacher, librarian, school counselor or nurse, a previously employing school district must provide to a school district currently employing that individual a copy of his/her TSR. This should be done no later than 30 days from the later of the date of the employee’s request, or last day of service with that school district.
While it is the responsibility of the school district (or charter school) to ensure that service records are accurate in all respects, mistakes and omissions are not infrequent, especially when the employee has worked for a number of school districts or different types of educational entities, has been employed in different positions and/or has had a break in service. It is incumbent on the employee to verify that the school district is properly and accurately maintaining the TSR. The school district will only pay teachers and other employees for service properly verified and recorded on the TSR. Even a missing signature may cause a delay in payment of the teacher’s proper salary amount.
Professional employees should always provide a new employing school district with all necessary credentials, including their TSR, as soon as possible after being hired, and no later than the beginning of the contract term. Employees should verify that they are being paid the correct amount when they receive the first paycheck. It is always easier to correct service records at the time of the mistake or soon thereafter. Employees may actually lose their ability to correct an underpayment if they fail to file a grievance within local district grievance policy time limits from the time they knew or should have known they were being underpaid. Such time limits can be as short as 10 days. Teachers, librarians, school counselors and nurses should review service records annually for accurate accounting of days of service and leave balances. It may not be enough to rely upon monthly pay/benefits records provided by the school district. As a TCTA member, you should call the TCTA Legal Department at 888-879-8282 as soon as you have any question about whether you are being paid correctly.
In conclusion, annually Attain a copy of your TSR, Be sure to carefully review all information contained on the record, and timely work with the school district to Correct any errors and/or omissions. This will assure continued payment of your proper salary amount and prevent the need to engage in more difficult efforts to set the record straight.
This article is not intended as legal advice. For specific questions about your teacher service record, TCTA members should call the Legal Department at 888-879-8282.