Dallas ISD informed Leon James that his salary for the 2013-14 school year would be $73,000. The notice was provided on August 20, 2013, and Mr. James promptly objected. This salary was a cut from his previous pay, and the notice was provided too close to the start of the school year. He could not resign his position without facing possible penalties.
Dallas backed down. On September 5, 2013, it sent a second letter to Mr. James. This time, he was told that his salary for the year would be “frozen at $79,988.” The next sentence became the crucial issue in the subsequent litigation: “Your salary will be reduced for 2014-15 to be reflective of assignment.”
In June, 2014, the board adopted a budget and salary schedule. The ‘Salary Handbook” published by the board showed that middle school assistant principals could range from $59,400 to $76,500. On September 11, 2014, Mr. James was informed that his salary for the year would be $73,000.
Mr. James appealed this decision to the Commissioner. The legal issue was whether or not the district had provided “formal” and “specific” notice of the salary cut prior to the penalty-free resignation date. Clearly the district had not done that for 2013-14, which is why the district backed down quickly when Mr. James objected. But what about the next year?
Notice that Mr. James was not told his exact salary until September. However, he was told well in advance that his salary would be “reflective of assignment.” Moreover, the Salary Handbook, which he could look up, showed that even the highest salary for A.P.s at the middle school would involve a cut in pay.
The Commissioner held that DISD had satisfied the requirements of the law. The standard “does not require that a school district give an educator enough information that the educator can determine exactly what the future salary amount will be.” Rather:
A notice is sufficiently specific if it “would result in a reasonable teacher knowing the amount the salary could be reduced.” [Emphasis added in the DISD case]. The notice does not need to state the salary amount explicitly if the educator can refer to salary schedules published by the school district and determine the amount the salary for the educator’s position could be reduced.
The case of James v. Dallas ISD, Docket No. 028-R10-03-2015, was decided by Commissioner Williams on October 15, 2015.
DAWG BONE: NOTICE OF SALARY REDUCTION MUST BE FORMAL, SPECIFIC, AND PROVIDED BEFORE THE PENALTY-FREE RESIGNATION DATE. “SPECIFIC” DOES NOT MEAN WHAT YOU THINK IT MEANS.