It’s Hiring Season! Ethics Considerations for Principals and Superintendents

Jamie Burgess
PTPC Representative
Superintendent, Nome School District

Break-up season is upon us once again, and we are all very busy recruiting new teachers for our schools for the coming year. With the job market in education becoming more challenging than ever, principals and superintendents often face some unpleasant situations during the hiring season. Sometimes a returning teacher will sign a contract, then later present their supervisor with a resignation letter, creating an unexpected vacancy often accompanied by hard feelings on the part of the supervisor. Or a new hire will accept an offer but then want to back out in favor of a better offer elsewhere. Supervisors sometimes want to consider filing a complaint with the PTPC to remedy the situation.

The Commission recommends first that School Boards have a clear written policy for how breach of contract will be handled and ensure that it is communicated to teachers each year. Some Districts may incorporate a financial penalty for breaking a signed contract into the contract or negotiated agreement. The Commission also recommends that teachers do not sign their contracts if they are actively seeking employment elsewhere. However, if a teacher does sign their contract and feels they have mitigating circumstances which necessitate resigning afterward, they should sit down and discuss with their supervisor to see if a mutual agreement can be worked out. The Commission’s general policy is not to pursue sanctions on breaches of contract that occur prior to June 30th, as that is generally seen as sufficient time for Districts to find a replacement employee. If a breach of contract complaint is filed, the Commission will look to see if both parties have made efforts to communicate with each other and if the teacher had reasonable mitigating circumstances and communicated those with the district or not. Teachers found guilty of breach of contract can have their certificates suspended for up to one year.

Additionally, districts interviewing teachers from another district in Alaska should make a reasonable effort to determine if the candidate has already signed a contract with another district. If so, the ethical process is to ensure that the candidate has a written release from that contract before making an offer of employment.

Finally, every district should ensure that principals and HR staff conduct background checks and reference checks as part of the hiring process, especially if individuals are being hired from out of state. Due diligence in this area can save a lot of headaches and potential damage to staff and students.

This year’s hiring season is more challenging than ever and can be frustrating. However, it can also be exciting to find that perfect fit for your school, and we wish you much luck in your endeavors! Persevere, and you’ll find those good teachers!