CLEVELAND, TN (WRCB) -
As school districts scramble for money, new research shows the United States spends four billion dollars each year for substitute teachers. The U.S. Department of Education says one in three teachers miss more than ten days a year. On top of that, achievement scores plummet when teachers take too many days off. Superintendents like Cleveland’s Dr. Martin Ringstaff are taking notice.
Ringstaff said, "The patterns you look for include those who take a lot of Fridays in a row, or they call in sick, then you see them at a ball game, I’ve seen it all happen, and it’s interesting."
Despite contracts that allow many public school teachers to take 10 sick days and 3 personal leave days each year, some teachers strive for perfect attendance. East Hamilton High School math teacher Kirsten Legac is one of those. She has a long record of consistency because she says, she doesn't want to shortchange her students.
"I tell my students, it’s your work ethic, you may as well start now, and continue through college and beyond. The only way you work is if you show up," Legac said.
Administrators like to hear that kind of talk, up to a point. Perfect attendance for teachers is a worthy goal, saving school districts money. Unless teachers insist on showing up when they really shouldn’t. Ringstaff said, "If a person is truly sick, don't come into a classroom and infect everyone else. Stay home, and get stronger and better."
East Hamilton principal Gail Chuy calls herself an "old school" type. She too, takes pride in coming to school every day. She says she is blessed with a staff that takes attendance seriously. When problems arise, however, she has her own ways of dealing with teachers who establish a record of inconsistent attendance. "If you feel like a teacher is taking advantage of a liberal leave policy, I sit them down, and tell them, you should be here every day for your students. They need you here," Chuy said.
Hamilton County schools have recently reduced teacher absences with an incentive program: teachers get a $30 per day payout for all their unused sick leave days upon retirement, and over the course of their career, the ability to retire one year early. Officials say the program has had a positive impact on teacher attendance. But some say, school districts shouldn’t have to reward teachers for coming to school.
Ringstaff said, "In Cleveland, we did not go that route. I just don't think you should reward them for coming to work, it's something you expect them to do."
He admits there are some circumstances that are beyond question. "Mayfield Elementary School has had ten pregnancies this school year. That definitely has an impact, but that's very unusual, and a very happy, good reason to miss school."