Proposed Bill Aims to Reform Truancy Policy

Efforts to reform truancy policy in Ohio have resulted in House Bill 410, which would eliminate suspension or expulsion of students as a punishment for excessive absence. The bill, which was passed in the House and now awaits action in the Senate Education Committee, would take effect in the 2017–2018 school year. HB 410 represents a shift away from zero-tolerance approaches to unexcused absences by removing “excessive truancy” from district policy regarding violent, disruptive, or inappropriate behavior.

Boards would need to adopt or amend existing policy to address student absences. Schools would be required to set up absence intervention teams – a district or school administrator, a teacher, and the parent or guardian of the child – aimed at finding solutions to get students to class via “absence intervention plans.” The bill suggests that the team collaborate with school psychologists, counselors and social workers, as well as public agencies and nonprofit organizations, which can provide additional assistance.

Schools would be required to report to the Department of Education any cases of habitual truancy, which has been redefined by the bill in terms of hours missed instead of days missed. The student would be assigned an intervention team, which must also be reported to the Department of Education. Though the bill is aimed at avoiding court interactions, juvenile court may issue an order to require that a child attend a certain number of consecutive hours unless the student has a legitimate excused absence.

For schools, a comparison for the absence intervention plan and the new protocol for truants is perhaps the implementation of a section 504 plan. Likely, the intervention team will conduct an equivalent to a functional behavioral analysis and come up with modifications in accordance. In contrast to IEPs, which are detailed, goal oriented, and have numerous methods for enforcement by the ODE, the solutions of the intervention team are not nearly as rigidly enforced by the language of the bill.

Should a child fail to complete the absence intervention plan laid out by the intervention team, the school can file a complaint to adjudicate the student as unruly. At that point, this complaint would be held in abeyance until the child either completes or fails to comply with a court diversion program. A child who fails to complete the program could be adjudicated as a delinquent child because of chronic truancy. The consequences for the parent or guardian of a chronic truant include a minor misdemeanor charge if the court finds that their actions in any way contributed to the behavior. In addition, they must pay a surety bond of $500.

The practical implications of these changes would likely place a burden on schools. Further constraints would be imposed on their staffing, who must participate in the intervention teams at additional expense. School budgets would be forced to accommodate in-school suspensions in place of expulsions or out-of-school suspension, which would require an extra classroom and teacher. However, the bill provides for no funding to implement these changes. The new approach to truancy will undoubtedly present a challenge to districts but aims to be a more effective means of addressing student absences.

Ohio Senate Approves Bill to Suspend Property Tax Increases

The Ohio Senate has approved a bill that would suspend property tax increases for commercial and industrial developments until a certificate of occupancy is granted. Any increase in the taxable value of properties that are being newly developed or redeveloped would not be subject to property taxes until the development is completed. Senate Bill (SB) 235 passed 22-11 on May 4.

Advocates of SB 235 say that it will encourage improvement of undeveloped property as developers would not face tax increases until a project is near completion. This measure would increase land development and job growth, and eventually increase property taxes when the development is completed.

However, the bill has faced debate and opposition, with many local governments expressing their concern while the bill was in the Senate Ways and Means Committee. The concern is that the bill would cause an unknown fiscal loss to local governments, although it would have no impact at the state level.

The Ways and Means Committee notes that it responded to the concerns by adding several amendments to the bill. One of those amendments is a ten-year reset, so that the taxable value of the property resets to the actual value at the eleventh year (and every ten years after that) for the tax suspension while the property is still in development.

As school districts are funded in large part by property taxes, SB 235 has implications to school districts. Many developments are years in the making, as noted by the ten-year reset amendment. This means that school districts would potentially lose out on many years of funding during the development of these commercial and industrial properties.

SB 235 has now been introduced in the Ohio House of Representatives for consideration. You are urged to contact your Ohio representative to provide input for the House committee that will be assigned to SB 235. Ennis Britton attorneys are available for counsel regarding how this bill may affect your school district.

Overtime Pay Threshold Increased to Include Millions More Workers

Effective December 1, 2016, “white collar” salaried employees not otherwise exempted from the overtime rules in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) will be eligible for overtime pay if their annual salary is less than $47,476. President Obama asked the Department of Labor to revise the exemption threshold of the FLSA from the current level of $23,660, which has not changed for more than a decade. The new amount more than doubles the current salary threshold.

Broad exemptions from FLSA overtime rules exist for executive, administrative, professional, outside sales, and computer employees. These exemptions are based on specific job duties as well as salary thresholds. In other words, an employee might have the duties of an administrator but not be exempt from overtime rules because her salary does not exceed the income threshold.

When this new rule takes effect, employers will have several options for employees who will no longer be exempt from the FLSA overtime rules:

  • Pay time-and-a-half for overtime (granting compensatory time may be an option created through collective bargaining)
  • Increase salaries above the threshold via regular pay or bonus pay with certain restrictions
  • Limit workers’ hours to 40 per week
  • Decrease base hourly pay to offset any increased overtime costs
  • Combine any of the above options

What This Means to Your School District

Common positions of concern in school districts include technology directors, food service supervisors, maintenance supervisors, and transportation supervisors. Even though these positions might previously have qualified for the administrative exemption, with the increased salary threshold many will no longer be exempt after the revised rules go into effect. The FLSA provides a special exemption from the professional employee salary threshold for teachers. Even if a teacher does not meet the new $47,476 threshold – and many will not – the rules still exempt them from overtime. A similar special rule applies to “academic administrative employees” as long as they are paid at least base teacher pay.

School districts may potentially have professional employees who do not neatly fit into the “teacher” and “academic administrative employee” categories. Ennis Britton attorneys are able to assist districts in identifying such employees and exploring how the new rules affect them.

School districts must track eligible employees’ hours and pay overtime as appropriate. Districts should maintain proper payroll records and require that employees submit time records. The burden is on employers to ensure FLSA compliance. Laws limiting salary reductions for school employees must be considered when planning for the new rules. Ennis Britton attorneys are available to help with any questions regarding these changes, such as which employees are affected by this change, how to maintain payroll records, and how job descriptions and the duties test apply.