Long teacher absences can cost more than money, research shows

naustin@modbee.comSeptember 27, 2013 

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    alternate textNan Austin
    Title: Education reporter
    Coverage areas: K-12 education, Yosemite Community College District
    Bio: Nan Austin has been a copy editor and reporter at The Modesto Bee for 24 years. She has an economics degree from CSU Stanislaus and previously worked at the Merced Sun-Star and Turlock Journal.
    Recent stories written by Nan
    On Twitter: @nanaustin
    E-mail: naustin@modbee.com
  • TYPES OF LEAVES

    These are the reasons Modesto City Schools teachers can be marked absent, but still receive pay.

    Jury Duty:

    Fully paid for the duration

    Military Leave:

    Paid as required by law for duration of service

    Sick leave:

    Ten days each year, which can accumulate without cap or expiration; can also be used for personal necessity

    Extended Sick Leave:

    By law, ill teachers who run out of sick days get partial pay equal to the difference between what they would earn and what a substitute costs for up to 100 days.

    Family leave:

    Unpaid after sick leave runs out

    Sabbatical:

    Paid at 50 percent if a list of conditions are met

    Industrial Accident or Illness:

    Up to 60 days in one year, full salary (district and insurer-paid)

    Bereavement Leave:

    Up to five days, full salary

    Association Leave:

    Up to three employees per year, fully paid but Modesto Teacher Association pays all payroll costs

    Community Service Leave:

    Up to three days, fully paid

    Willy Brown Leave:

    Reduced workload and pay, but with full retirement credit and benefits, for teachers 55 and older retiring in 5 years or less

    Sources: Modesto Teachers Association contract; California Department of Education

— Modesto City Schools shelled out millions of dollars in paid leaves to teachers over the last three years, but that wasn’t the only cost.

While some were for medical reasons and not at full salary, long teacher absences still mean classrooms are often led by a succession of substitutes. Research shows teacher absences can prove costly to student performance.

Under the typical one-year substitute teaching permit, those replacements can only serve 30 days before having to switch out. In special education classes, no one without the specialized credential can stay longer than 20 days, said Associate Superintendent Ginger Johnson.

“I understand the reasoning behind that, because you want well-qualified teachers. But that’s very, very difficult on a class,” Johnson said. For long leaves, the district tries to find a temporary teachers with full credentials, not just permits, she said.

More than 30percent of Modesto City Teachers were out of the classroom on average more than 10 days in 2009-10, the latest data available from the National Center of Education Statistics. The number varies widely by school, from less than a quarter of junior high teachers at Roosevelt who were out more than 10 days to more than half at Hanshaw.

A report released by the Center for American Progress in November 2012 found, using that database, that every 10 teacher absences causes a measurable learning loss. In math, research showed the drop in scores equaled that of being taught by a novice teacher instead of one with more experience.

A Bee investigation cataloged 2,656 weeks of paid leave noted in board agendas granted to teachers, specialists and administrators over three years, and asked district leaders for an explanation.

The district board and administrators have steadfastly refused to comment, even in broad generalities, about the leaves, citing privacy concerns for individuals. Head of human resources Craig Rydquist did break out what was paid to teachers on paid administrative leave, the category that includes suspicion of misconduct.

The contract with Modesto Teachers Association calls for fully paid leave in limited circumstances, such as jury duty or military service. A few days can be taken for community service, bereavement and up to 40 hours to volunteer in their children’s classroom.

For medical leave, teachers have 10 days a year that can be banked year to year without a cap or expiration. In addition, California Education Code directs districts to pay teachers what’s left of their salaries after using those those funds to cover the cost of their substitutes for 100 days per illness or injury. For job-related illnesses, teachers receive up to 60 days of pay from the district.

Several teachers who received lengthy paid leaves contacted The Bee to say they were out on extended medical leave, receiving a fraction of their normal pay from the district, despite agenda documents listing their leaves as fully paid.

In answer to Bee requests under the California Public Record Act, the district disclosed that for 2012-13, the district had nine teachers on paid administrative leave, paying $281,365. There were 13 teachers placed on paid administrative leave for a total of 365 days during the 2011-12 school year, a total cost of $142,359, Rydquist said.

The Bee sought the basis of individual investigations under a court ruling in a 2003 Bakersfield City School case that held "where complaints of a public employee's wrongdoing and resulting disciplinary investigation reveal allegations of a substantial nature, as distinct from baseless or trivial, and there is reasonable cause to believe the complaint is well founded, public employee privacy must give way to the public's right to know."

The district refused to identify individuals on paid administrative leave, however, some were very public.

Former Enochs teacher James Hooker was put on leave Feb. 3, 2012, but resigned less than three weeks later and moved in with an 18-year-old student. Former Elliott Principal Julie Beebe protested the decision to not renew her contract and was removed from the campus Jan 29. She was paid through the end of the school year, according to agenda documents.

Adaptive physical education instructor Brad Keith was placed on leave in November 2009, costing the district $250,000 before his conviction and subsequent firing in October 2012. Johnson said she made that call, adding that she felt he could not be fired before his case concluded. “It’s the American way. He’s innocent until proven guilty,” she said.

Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at naustin@modbee.com or (209) 578-2339. Follow her on Twitter @NanAustin

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