Contracts and Employee Handbooks and Board Policies, Oh My!

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When you serve as an educational leader, it goes without saying that you are expected to know a lot. Much of what you are expected to know is not taught in a college course and most likely not part of any internship experience. As the building leader it is critical that you know how to locate and navigate several guiding documents which include, but are not limited to board policies, administrative guidelines, handbooks (district, building, student, athletics, student activities and parent) and bargaining agreements (contracts). There is no way you can be expected to memorize every single policy and written word, but as a building leader you should view these documents as tools and feel confident accessing them and using them in time of need. Below is a summary of each document, who is responsible for managing the document and how each document is used to guide your practice.

Board policies are the principles and guidelines adopted by the Board of Education to support the district's goals and to provide guidance for administrative decisions. Board polices will also include and mandate the laws of the state. It is the job of the superintendent's office to collaborate with the Board of Education regularly to update the board policies, as changes often arise at the local and state level. Board policies may be found in a hard copy and/or through the district's website. The policies may be password protected, but either way, make sure you can access them and comfortably toggle between sections so you are able to find information in a timely manner.

Administrative guidelines are found separate from the board policies but serve as the procedural steps or processes on how to implement and carry out the individual board policies. Board policies can be broad in nature and in even a single sentence mandating a law. For example, the mandated law for concussion training will be found in the board policy, but the implementation and the procedures for the who, what, when, where and how concussion training is conducted and managed district-wide will be found in the administrative guidelines. Again, these guidelines may be password protected and will change as board policy and/or processes are update.

The district employee handbook is another document that is managed through central office, typically through human resources. It can be a great tool for building leaders and employees as it outlines the guiding practices for district expectations, professionalism, payroll, benefits, technology, regulatory compliance, grievance procedures, district forms, etc. It is critical for the building leader to be familiar with the document and make it a common practice to direct the staff to use the employee handbook, as they often have questions that can be easily answered and managed. Similar to board policies, the district employee handbook will use broad statements in areas that are tied to individual bargaining agreements. For example, the employee handbook may have a section outlining the expectations for attendance for all employees, but it will direct employees to individual contracts for specific information as it pertains to negotiated items such as personal business days, number of absences provided each year and how absences are treated before or after a holiday break.

Additional handbooks are often used to outline individual building expectations for students, parents, student activities and athletics. The more handbooks there are, the more challenging it can be to ensure that the same and most current practices are being executed with consistency. Take the initiative to learn which ones are currently in circulation, determine if they are managed by the district or at the building level and be intentional about keeping the building handbook(s) updated. It is the building leader's responsibility to make sure the working documents are revised on an annual basis or as needed, organized, communicated, accessible and honored by following the policies and procedures outlined in each one.

Bargaining agreements are the individual contracts for each union group (teachers, support staff, transportation, food service, custodial/maintenance, etc.). and are managed through negotiations with central office administrators and union officers. Due to the many changes in the Teacher Tenure Act and the recent recession, bargaining agreements have been constantly in negotiations and many groups have been privatized due to major budget cuts. Typically, a building leader should be very familiar with contracts as they relate to the teachers/certified staff and support staff such as the secretaries and para professionals. Contracts serve as another resource to direct the employee groups to when they have specific questions about their own contract. When an employee issue arises, you should refer to the bargaining agreement to educate yourself on the specific language before making a decision. A complaint does not mean the contract has been violated. If you determine that a violation has indeed occurred, then immediate acknowledged and corrective actions can take place. Conducting regular union meetings with your building representatives goes a long way with the staff and it allows the you to keep a pulse on the building morale and potential issues, allowing you to resolve them before they become a major problem.

Having multiple documents to juggle may feel overwhelming, but the good news is you are not responsible for recreating the wheel or the management of all of them. It is important to know that the documents have a purpose. They are in place to communicate and guide the district's goals, decisions, professional expectations, policies, practices, procedures, compliance requirements and the law. When the documents are managed and communicated on a regular basis with fidelity, it creates a transparent, consistent and safe work culture. The more you become familiar with how the documents work and the valuable information that is found in each one, the more comfortable you will become in referring your staff to look up readily available information as it pertains to the operational side of their job. You may not have all of the answers, but you should be able to find the answers with relative ease to help to guide your practice as a building leader.

Written by Carol Baaki Diglio, Consultant, Consulting by Diglio. Carol is a veteran administrator who recently retired from the Novi School District. She spent many years as a high school Principal and as the Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources.

Interested in learning more from Carol? Attend our upcoming workshops:

Huh, I'm Responsible for That Too? (Administrator 101) - Sept. 26
Holding Staff Accountable, Not Hostage - Oct. 11
You're Filing a Grievance About What?! - Oct. 29