School board approves bonuses to reduce teacher absences

School board approves bonuses to reduce teacher absences

(W. Va.) Effective immediately, teachers with good attendance records in one West Virginia school district will receive cash bonuses of up to $500, under a policy approved last week.

The Roane County school board adopted the policy in an effort to reduce high absence rates among staff. Last school year, more than a third of the district's 295 employees missed more than 15 days of work.

Now, if a teacher doesn’t miss a single day, he or she will receive $500. The amount of the bonus decreases each day they miss school, and those who miss six or more days won’t receive any extra cash.

District officials said they expect the bonuses to ultimately reduce school spending. Currently, the district pays about $375,000 for substitutes annually. Had the new teacher attendance policy been in effect last year, the district would have distributed $12,000 in bonuses–obviously far less than what is spent when educators miss school.

"We can pay less in bonuses to our employees than we would to pay substitutes to work on those days,” Richard Duncan, district superintendent, told local reporters.

While most of the attention in public schools tends to be on students who miss too much class, there’s also growing concern over no-show teachers, according to a report released last year by the Fordham Foundation. Nationally, 28 percent of teachers in traditional public schools can be labeled ‘chronically absent,’ meaning that they miss more than 10 school days a year because of sickness or personal leave. The same was found to be true of about 10 percent of charter school teachers.

School districts in poor, rural areas–as well as in some major cities–have been hit especially by hard by teacher absences. The U.S. Education Department's Office for Civil Rights reported in 2016 that chronic absenteeism among educators rose above 75 percent in such areas spanning from Nevada to North Carolina in 2014, the last year for which data is available.

Policy and state law related to teacher sick leave and personal time vary widely. In Texas, teachers are entitled to five days whether for personal time or sick leave–compared to those in 19 states and the District of Columbia who have a minimum of 10 days of sick and personal time each year. Another 11 states provide more than 10 day, while 16 states leave the number of days up to local school boards.

Studies have shown that student outcomes are negatively impacted by high rates of absences among teachers. For instance, when educators are absent for 10 days, it can make the difference between students having a brand new teacher and one with two or three years of teaching experience, according to research from the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Education officials attribute such outcomes to the lack of consistency in the classroom, when students are exposed to a parade of substitutes who don’t provide the same high-quality instruction as full-time teachers.

In Roane County Schools, one teacher told reporters at WCHSTV that ensuring consistency for students was of the utmost importance–especially for those in early grades.

District officials said 50 teachers are already out of the running to receive the full $500 bonus, as they had already missed a day of work in the first two weeks.

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