When Teachers Take Too Many Days Off

By Susan Black

The school board in Florida’s Pasco County Schools, a district with nearly 66,000 students in 48 schools, recently confronted a problem with teacher absenteeism. In January, a labor lawyer presented a middle school science teacher’s absences to the board: 84.5 school days in 2004-05, followed by 82 days, 44 days, and 31.5 days in successive years.

Before the 2008-09 school year started, Superintendent Heather Fiorentino warned the teacher to improve attendance or face dismissal. In November, after the teacher accrued 14.5 more absences, citing chronic asthma and other health problems, Fiorentino initiated termination proceedings. The board fired the teacher in March. In an interview with the St. Petersburg Times, Fiorentino defended the dismissal. School officials, she said, have a responsibility to “ensure that every child in every classroom is getting effective teaching.”

The high cost of absences

Many school boards are scrutinizing excessive teacher absences, and for good reason: Steadily increasing teacher absences can translate into runaway costs.

Public schools spend $4 billion per year on substitute teachers, says Raegen Miller of the Center for American Progress. His 2008 investigation of teacher absences, conducted with two Harvard researchers, found that, on average, public school teachers miss nine to 10 days per year. Averaged over the school year, 5.3 percent of all public school teachers are absent from their classroom duties on any given day.

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