Defenders expose teachers not making it to class

A look at how much local districts pay for substitute teachers


DETROIT – Teacher absence is a leading indicator of student achievement. That being said, how do local school districts rate in terms of teachers missing class?

Local 4 Defender Karen Drew takes a look at how districts rate in terms of teacher absence, and how other districts are trying some innovative ways to improve teacher's attendance.

Kindergarten teacher Lisa Cooker is a perfect example of what L'Anse Creuse School District is doing to ensure a student's achievement.

Cooker said she hasn't missed a day of school all year.

"Well, the children have to get used to somebody else. It interferes with their normal routines, especially with kindergarten, they're used to having that security and normal routine," said Cooker. "So, if you're in and out, it is a detriment to their learning."

Kindergarten teacher Laura Zaiglin of Joseph M. Carkenord Elementary School also has perfect attendance this year.

"I guess, it's just, you know, I think it would be hard for the kids to, you know, be with another teacher," said Zaiglin. "It's not familiar to them and they could, just like more consistency and have fun."

Studies show teacher absence lowers student achievement. What is typical for teacher's attendance?

Nationally, for full time workers, 3-percent absence is average. For the American teacher, the national average is 5.3 percent.

It's important to note teachers' absence rate includes maternity leave, and in-service days.

The Local 4 Defenders wanted to know how Metro Detroit's top ten populated districts did in terms of teacher absenteeism.

After some research, the Utica School District had the lowest teacher absence rate with 4 percent, below the national average at a cost of $1,082,310.

"Oh, I'm very glad. Yeah, I'm not surprised," said Utica parent Linda Topski. "I know it's a great district, and the teachers are great here."

The L'Anse Creuse School District was also below the national average with 4.79 percent teacher absenteeism, which cost the district $322,886.

"It definitely makes my job easier knowing that I can count on them," said Joseph M. Carkenord Elementary School Principal Chris May. "They're here every day and that consistency, it's very valuable."

At Warren Consolidated Schools, teachers missed school 6.79 percent of the time, at a cost of $1,020,190.59 to taxpayers.

The Livonia School District could not provide a percentage of teacher absence, but did tell Local 4 Defender Karen Drew the district did spend $1,366,561.74 a year on substitute teachers.

The same with Southfield; The district said it spent $1,001,707.44 on substitute teachers last year, but did not have a percentage of teacher absence.

"Wow that's a lot! That seems like a lot of money for substitute teachers."

How did the Detroit School District do in terms of teacher attendance, and what did their absence cost taxpayers? After waiting months, the district has refused to share that information.

The same goes with the Ann Arbor School District. It too would not release teacher attendance records to us, instead, keeping that information secret.

"That seems odd not to want to reveal the information," said Ann Arbor resident Sally Camper.

Rounding out the top ten populated districts in our area, Plymouth Canton School District's teachers miss school 7.58 percent of the time, at a cost of $1,843,601.60.

Chippewa Valley has a 8.1 percent teacher absence rate, at a cost of $1,216,832.24.

Finally, Dearborn schools have a 7.45 percent teacher absence rate, which costs the district $1.7 million.

While Dearborn may have a higher percentage than the national average, the district is really trying to attack the issue of teacher absence.

"We're all about student achievement, so we want to keep our teachers in the classroom as much as possible," said Dearborn Superintendent Brian Whiston.

Whiston said all schools are getting less money from the state, so he needed to figure out a way to cut teacher substitute cost.

"We talked to our staff about it, listen guys, one way we can keep jobs, not having to lay people off, is if we all just show up to work and save on replacing teachers with substitutes," said Whiston.

Another way to fight teacher absence now, is teachers no longer just report an absence on a recorded line, they must call their supervisor.

"Because I think it's much tougher to tell your boss, 'I'm not going to be in today,' and that's going to inconvenience one of my fellow teachers who now has to jump into my classroom to teach for me, because we're not providing subs every time teachers call in," said Whiston.

Whiston said the new plan is working. The district's goal is to save a minimum of $250,000, potentially it could save $500,000. That's your tax dollars saved that can be used on students their education.

Chris Sipperley, the president of the Dearborn Federation of Teachers Local 681, issued the following statement:

"The Dearborn Federation of Teachers continuously works collaboratively with the district to provide the best education possible for our students. Through the unique healthcare plan that was negotiated in 2010, the DFT has ownership of the teachers' health care benefits.
Because of this, the Union has initiated various preventative health care initiatives that have educated our teachers on healthy living practices. These initiatives can lead to less teacher absences, as well as keeping medical benefit costs down, all of which benefits the students, the employees, the district and the community."

Many of these absences are because of teacher professional development days during class time. According to research, Charter schools are less likely to hold those days while students are in session.

Doug Pratt, MEA Director of Public Affairs, issued the following statement:

"While it would be nice if employees never got sick or have personal business that has to happen during the workday, that's just not what happens in the real world. That's especially true when your job is to work with 30 plus students who often come to school with runny noses, coughs, stomach aches and worse. Considering the number of students who can be out sick at any given time when flu season hits, these numbers aren't very surprising."

Without a doubt, teachers work very hard, many working more than 40 hours a week and spending their own money on teaching tools in the classroom.

What the Local 4 Defenders wanted to show is how much is being spent on substitute teachers and start the conversation to see if those dollars could be better spent.

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