What Happens if I Break My Teacher’s Contract?

It’s hard to believe, but another school year starts in Arkansas in less than three weeks. Even at this late date, some school districts are still trying to fill positions that have gone unfilled all summer. It’s this time of year when I get questions from teachers who have already signed a contract with one school district, yet have been offered a more lucrative job with another. What are the ramifications for a teacher who chooses to break a contract with one school district to work for another?

First of all, school districts are extremely reluctant to hire a teacher under contract with another district. Arkansas law provides that any public school district that employs a teacher or administrator that the district either knows or should have known was contractually obligated to another public school district is liable to that district for an amount of money equal to the teacher’s salary in the broken contract. For example, Teacher John Smith signs a contract in May to teach at School District A for $50,000 per year. In July, Smith is offered a job teaching at School District B for $60,000 per year. School District A refuses to release Smith from his contract. Smith decides to break his contract with School District A anyway and take the job at School District B. If School District B either knows, or should have known, that Smith had already signed a contract with School District A, then School District B is liable to School District A for $50,000, and the Department of Education can enforce this liability. So how do we know if School District B either knows or should have known about Smith’s contract with School District A? Well, when people apply for jobs they typically list their last employer, so that’s the first clue. In an interview, I would expect the hiring official for School District B to ask Smith why he left his last job and whether or not he had signed another contract. Teacher contracts are public knowledge and are listed on school districts’ websites, so even if Smith lies about his previous employment, a simple web search will often be all that’s needed to find Smith’s employment history. From there, I think School District B has at least some responsibility to follow up with School District A about Smith’s employment. Unless Smith is a recent college graduate with no employment history, there aren’t many scenarios where School District B can claim it shouldn’t have known about Smith’s contract with School District A.

So what if a teacher wants to break a contract with a public school district to work for a private school, or to work out-of-state, or to work for a college? This is where the answer is a bit tricky. Obviously, the law mentioned above doesn’t apply to private schools, out-of-state schools, or colleges, so those types of employers don’t really care that a teacher has already signed a contract with a public school district and are often willing to hire that teacher anyway. When a teacher breaks a contract with a school district, that teacher is in breach, and can be held liable for a breach of contract. However, the reality is that most school districts will not pursue a breach of contract lawsuit against a teacher in this situation. Lawsuits are time-consuming and expensive, and the only relief the district could pursue would be any salary payments made to the teacher prior to the breach or possibly specific performance, but that’s simply not realistic.

The most likely ramification in this situation would be a termination proceeding against the teacher. The school district would still be required to follow the procedural requirements of the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act, so the teacher would have the opportunity to present his or her reasons for breaking the contract to the district’s school board. The proceeding would still likely result in a termination, however, which would be public record and could hurt the teacher’s chances for future employment. Some school districts may simply threaten termination, but never follow through, and districts may respond differently to different teachers, depending on their circumstances. There’s always a calculated risk to breaking a contract, and I always recommend that teachers take that risk seriously before choosing to do so.


Comments 12

  • Is there a difference if a teacher is moving to a non-lateral position?

  • What if you breach the contract by taking a better opportunity offered and you are not being paid for your wage,but at the first place you become honest that you are waiting for another position but still he insisted that they will not going to get that position. Are you still reliable for the damages for breaking the contract?

  • Can a Principal threaten a Teacher to either resign or be fired? Can a Principal actually fire a Teacher and will the Teacher lose her license if that’s possible. The paperwork the teacher is trying to make the Teacher sign is mostly fabricated and some items blown all out of proportion to what actually happened, she is saying the teacher did something deliberately that there would have no reason to do it deliberately, none at all, she just left one thing off paperwork. And is there any way that you can find out if the Principal has had past grievances filed against her.

  • What does a teacher do with the unsigned contract if she knows that she is not going back to the school? She is searching in other areas.

    • Just don’t sign it. If you’re 100% sure you’re not going back to your current school, then I would submit a letter of resignation effective at the end of the school year. If you’re not 100% sure, but are rather just exploring your options, then I would just wait. You should have at least 30 days to sign and return your contract to your school.

  • Hi I just want to ask . What if another private school offers me higher salary than my previous school now? Is it possible that the principal of my school will let me resigned and file a resignation letter and if i tell my reason ? And our first day of school will be on june 18 . Thankyou

  • What if a teacher has informed her employer that she is going to be look at jobs in another district before end of school in early may . Nothing is listed till July 15th . The teacher tells both principal and superintendent that she has applied. Waiting for notification that she will get an interview she talks in person to principal and he says that he has someone inline to take the position so go for it. That is on a Monday the notification for an interview comes on Tuesday that the interview will be Friday at 3:20-3:40 on Friday in the evening 6:30 the superintendent of new school face times the teacher and offers her the job ans she accept based on the princals statement. But when emailing the school superintendent of old school he says he does not know if the principal has some one and he will not let me out of my contract . What to do

    • Until you have confirmation in writing from the superintendent that he/she is accepting your resignation and releasing you from your contract, you haven’t been technically released. You may have other legal options, based on basic contract law, but before hiring you, your new school will most likely request written confirmation of your release.

  • What if I am seeking a job at an Arkansas charter school? I am currently a public educator. Are they beholden to the laws and subject to a fee if I am hired due to me being in a contract?

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