Teacher absenteeism emerges as an issue in Syracuse schools

by Cathy Woodruff

On Board Online • August 14, 2017

By Cathy Woodruff
Senior Writer

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:

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:

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.

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