Earlier this year, Governor Wolf signed Act 13, which provided several forms of relief for school entities throughout the Commonwealth. Most recently, the General Assembly enacted further relief for schools through Act 15.
Together, these Acts have bolstered the flexibility required for schools to continue services, where possible, and maintain operations.
KingSpry thoroughly analyzed each component of Act 13 upon its enactment on March 27, 2020. Act 13 touched upon several areas of school administration, including, but not limited to, waiving minimum instructional days, employee pay and PSERS credits, school cleaning staff, transportation contracts, special education, Federal testing waivers, and teacher evaluation.
Act 13 also provided discretion to the Pennsylvania Secretary of Education to waive several statutory and regulatory requirements. On April 9, 2020, Secretary Rivera chose to waive each of the following requirements for the 2019-2020 academic year:
- Application deadline for flexible instruction days under Section 1506(c)(1) of the School Code
- Minimum hours required for career and technical education program
- Requirement to include performance data in a professional employee’s rating
- Minimum number of days of prekindergarten instruction
- Twelve-week student teach requirement for educator preparation programs utilizing the modified student teaching requirements of the Department
- Statewide administration of the NIMS assessment and NOCTI exam
Specifically regarding professional employee evaluations, the Department has provided extensive guidance for how evaluations will change without the inclusion of performance data. This guidance can be found here. For 2019-2020, classroom teachers and non-teaching professionals will be evaluated solely on classroom observation and practice. Principals and other school leaders will be evaluated solely on the Framework for Leadership Model.
A key feature of Act 15 is that it allows school districts, intermediate units, area career and technical school, charter school, cyber charter school and regional charter school to renegotiate a contract for contracted service providers. However, the purpose of renegotiation must be to ensure that contracted personnel and fixed costs, including administrative costs and equipment, are maintained during the period of school closure.
During the closure, the contract service providers must submit weekly documentation to each school entity that its complement levels remain at or above the level on March 13, 2020 in order to continue being paid. It is unclear whether service providers must do this whether or not a contract has been renegotiated, or whether school entities can refuse payment if complement levels fall, but the contracted services remain steady.
Additionally, none of the terms in this section (aside from “school entity”) is specifically defined, so it is not entirely clear the full range of costs that may be included as administrative or fixed. Act 15 School should assess the current language in their contracts and consider how renegotiations could impact enforceability or damages.
School entities should also recognize that this section of Act 15 is optional, and that they are not compelled to renegotiate with all contracted service providers.
Bottom Line for Schools
With Act 13 and Act 15, the General Assembly has provided schools and businesses with a few avenues for fiscal and administrative relief. While several deadlines and requirements have been waived, it is still important to consider the local impact of these waivers, as well as any superseding provisions in any collective bargaining agreements.
For those school entities looking to renegotiate with contract providers, now is a good time to reassess your contracts and determine whether modifications are necessary. If you have specific questions about these Acts or other school matters, reach out to your solicitor or one of the school attorneys at KingSpry to discuss your particular circumstances.
If you have a question, please contact your legal counsel or one of the education attorneys at KingSpry.
School Law Bullets are a publication of KingSpry’s Education Law Practice Group. This article is meant to be informational and does not constitute legal advice.