Teacher absenteeism emerges as an issue in Syracuse schools
On Board Online • August 14, 2017
By Cathy Woodruff
The Syracuse City School District, already in the midst of an effort to improve student attendance, has begun examining trends in faculty and staff attendance and considering ways to improve it.
In a report presented at a Board of Education work session in July, Superintendent Jaime Alicea outlined a study that showed particularly high rates of teacher sick-day absences on Fridays.
The district spent $3.25 million last year to employ substitutes. Yet, the district was able to fill only 79 percent of the slots for absent teachers during the 2016-17 school year, officials reported.
The Syracuse Post-Standard reported that district officials are concerned that chronic absenteeism among teachers - and a perception that many are taking sick days to extend weekends and for other reasons besides illness - may be hindering academic progress for students.
In view of the analysis conducted by the district's human resources and accountability staffs, school officials have begun discussions with the Syracuse Teachers Association aimed at addressing issues related to staff attendance, a district spokesman said.
Alicea also has proposed nearly a dozen potential changes related to staff attendance policy and procedures, including some that would be topics for negotiation with the union.
"There is no set timetable for implementation, but it is the superintendent's plan to implement some of the recommendations this coming school year," the spokesman said in an email responding to an inquiry from On Board.
Key findings presented to the board included:
- Higher absentee rates among teachers in their 40s and 50s and among those with greater experience.
- Total daily absences far higher than average on Fridays. Nine of the 10 highest absentee days for all staff members in the last school year were Fridays. The other was a "superintendent's day" set aside for professional development.
- A total of 306 absences on the day after St. Patrick's Day in 2016, which was nearly twice the daily average for that school year of 157. In some cases, particularly for St. Patrick's Day, employees entered a sick day into the electronic system days, weeks or even a month prior to the holiday.
- Higher rates of absence among teachers in alternative programs that serve students with behavioral problems and in the district's struggling schools.
Among individual schools, there were wide variations in teacher attendance trends between the 2015-16 school year and 2016-17. Attendance improved substantially in some schools while it clearly declined in others.
In a letter to the editor responding to the Post-Standard report, the president of the teachers' union called teacher attendance in the school system "excellent" and said more than half of teachers have attendance rates above 95 percent.
"Syracuse Teachers Association fully supports our members' right to use their contractually guaranteed sick and personal days, provided they follow the proper procedures," wrote Megan Root, president of the association.
She said teachers often schedule sick days ahead of time for medical appointments, and she described city schools as "germ factories" where colds and flu thrive and spread easily. Read the letter here: goo.gl/PiZsnX .
Alicea has proposed a number of potential steps to help improve teacher and staff attendance. They include:
- Make absences a focus of discussion and publicize attendance expectations.
- Require employees to call an immediate supervisor on days they will be absent.
- Include employee attendance as a measure in evaluations.
- Restrict leave availability on specific days, such as immediately before or after holidays and on professional development days.
- Introduce incentives, such as paying employees with good attendance extra upon retirement or rewarding excellent attendance with a bonus or tickets to an event.
- Hold monthly dialogues on causes of stress related to school climate and culture.
The district's internal study of staff attendance stemmed from informal observations of apparent trends and a need for more formal data, according to the district spokesman.
"Additionally, the district placed an emphasis on student attendance last year, and reviewing the staff attendance became a natural extension of that focus," he said.
Send this page to a friend
Show Other Stories