By Denise Dick
THE CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT HAS SPENT NEARLY $7 million on substitute teachers the last five years, with more than three more months left in this school year.
The district pays substitutes $70 per day plus costs for the State Teachers Retirement System, Medicare and workers’ compensation which totals $88.72 per day.
At 10 days, the base amount increases to $75 per day and at 60 days, it increases to $162.42 per day plus health benefits.
Through Feb. 8, the district spent more than $669,000 on substitutes this year and $1.7 million for subs last school year. The totals include money from the general fund, federal dollars that carry restrictions on their use and all other funds.
Substitutes are called in when a teacher is absent for any reason, from sickness, personal time or family death or illness to military leave, workshops, professional development training or jury duty.
Through January, the Youngstown district has had 4,374 teacher absences this school year. Chaney Campus (grades 6-12) logged the most with 500 followed by East High with 459.
For the 2011-2012 school year, there were 8,879 teacher absences; P. Ross Berry Middle School logged the most at 1,295.
The totals include preschool teachers and those on special assignment and not working in a classroom.
Superintendent Connie Hathorn was surprised at the amounts spent for substitutes but said some of the high numbers could result from extended illnesses, which would bump up the totals. One teacher with an extended illness would be counted as absent for every school day missed.
The district, which is trying to bolster student achievement under the guidance of the state-appointed Academic Distress Commission, has been requiring several professional- development sessions the last couple of years. Many professional-development hours count as absences.
For sick days, the district has implemented safeguards, Hathorn said.
Karen Green, assistant superintendent of human resources, said the district may require an employee’s physician to complete a form stating the employee is unable to work in cases of prolonged illness. Physician’s notes are also required upon an employee’s return to work after five consecutive sick days.
Though the absence numbers look high, data on the Ohio Department of Education’s website show the city schools are on par with other districts as far as percentage of teacher attendance.
Youngstown had a 95 percent teacher attendance rate for the 2010-2011 school year, the most recent data available. Warren City’s attendance was 94 percent that same year, Austintown’s was 95 percent, Boardman’s 94 percent. Akron logged 100 percent staff attendance in 2010-2011; Canton saw 97 percent; Lorain, 93 percent; Elyria, 95 percent; and Warrensville Heights, 94 percent.
John Charlton, an ODE spokesman, said in an email the percentages include absences that are covered by sick leave, personal leave or other forms of leave. It doesn’t include professional meetings.
Larry Ellis, president of the Youngstown Education Association, the union representing Youngstown’s 540 teachers, said the number of absences due to sick days may be higher in recent years because a significant percentage of teachers are getting older and starting to have more health problems.
Though he’s not always privy to the reasons people take sick time, he said some may be due to job stress.
Charles Howell, dean of the Beeghly College of Education at Youngstown State University, said sick days are typically part of contracts between teachers unions and school districts — so school administrators don’t have much control over them.
“But it’s been recognized as a statewide problem that teacher absences potentially could rise to a level that could impact student learning,” he said.
There are some very effective substitute teachers though, Howell said, and if substitutes are placed in a subject area that meshes with their area of expertise, there likely wouldn’t be a negative impact.
“It depends a lot on the quality of substitute pool and the relationship built over time between the principals and the substitutes and the teachers,” the dean said.
By contract, city school teachers are allowed 15 days of paid sick leave per year. That’s also a requirement by state law.
Teachers also are allowed three personal days per year. Sick days accumulate from one year to the next if they aren’t used.
Teacher absence “has important nonfinancial costs,” according to “Teacher Absence as a Leading Indicator of Student Achievement,” a report released last November by the Center for American Progress. “It negatively affects student achievement, a fact borne out by research that finds that every 10 absences lowers average mathematics achievement equivalent to the difference between having a novice teacher and one with a bit more experience.”
The report points out that multiple studies have “linked teacher absence with job-related stress...”
A 2009-2010 report by the U.S. Department of Education from surveys of 57,000 schools found that 36 percent of teachers across the country were absent more than 10 days during the year.
Studies at both Harvard and Duke universities have concluded that “teachers in bigger schools were absent more often than those in smaller schools. Elementary-school teachers took off more time than did those in high school. Tenured teachers took off 3.7 more days than did those without tenure,” according to an article in the current EducationNext.
Cleveland schools, the article says, which allows teachers 18 days off per year, has budgeted $10.8 million for substitutes this year.