School district to revamp sick-day policy; hopes to keep teachers in classrooms

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comMarch 16, 2014 

A new sick-leave policy is in the works for the Beaufort County School District to try to keep teachers in the classroom.

The district analyzed records covering several years of sick days claimed by teachers and the amount spent on substitutes, and some officials thought those numbers were too high.

The district will attempt to reduce the number of sick days taken with some sort of incentive, possibly paying teachers at the end of each year for unused sick leave.

"This really is a process to keep substitute teachers out of the classroom and to keep certified teachers in the classroom," superintendent Jeff Moss said. "Not that we don't value substitutes, but you lose the continuity of instruction when the teacher is not there."

Moss said the new policy should be in place by next school year, but it would first have to win board approval.

Currently, teachers get 12 sick days a year and can accrue as many as 90, according to Alice Walton, district head of human resources. Reaching that limit creates an incentive for teachers to use sick leave even when they're not incapable of working, Moss said.

In its analysis, the district found younger teachers tend to take more sick days, probably because many have young children and stay home when their kids are sick, Moss said. They also found that slightly more sick days were taken on Fridays.

Over the past three years, an average of 10,000 sick days have been taken each year by the district's 1,500 teachers, according to Moss. The district has spent about $2.2 million each year for substitute teachers.

"That money being spent is not the big loss, though," Moss said. "The big loss is not having that teacher in the classroom. That is 10,000 days of lost instruction."

Substitutes make between $60 and $90 per day, depending on their experience, and teachers could receive similar amounts per day for not using sick leave, Moss said.

The policy is not intended to entice teachers to come to school when they are sick, Moss said. But it might convince teachers feeling drained or tired to report to work instead of taking a so-called "mental health day."

Teachers have been receptive to a potential change, Lady's Island Middle School principal Mona Lise Dickson said.

Her school has created a system to recognize teachers each month who don't take sick days. But the recognition doesn't come with any money. Still, she said, she's seen some benefit from the program, and if the district adds money, it would help even more.

"I think it would be a great system and a little extra incentive for teachers to stay in the classroom if they are able," she said.

School board member Jim Beckert, chairman of the Human Resources Committee, said he supports an incentive for steady attendance. The committee is working with district officials to create the new policy.

"Yes, people are going to take time off, and it is their right and benefit, but we want to have the most efficient and effective person in front of the students as often as we possibly can," Beckert said.

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

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