UPDATE 2/26/13 @ 7:40 p.m.
KANAWHA COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The Kanawha County school system has a plan to improve teacher attendance and prevent abuse of the policy.
While the majority of teachers work hard, a WSAZ.com investigation found teacher attendance is often lower than student attendance statewide.
WSAZ.com found teachers are given at least 15 paid days off per year. This includes nine sick days, three personal days and three family days. For teachers or service personnel who work more than 200 days a year, they're given additional days.
The West Virginia Education Association argues teachers are more likely to get sick and a statewide shortage of teachers contributes to the problem.
Now the issue has made its way to the West Virginia Capitol and is being addressed by lawmakers during this legislative session.
Kanawha County has spent millions of dollars to pay for substitutes every year, and now the superintendent is offering potential solutions to tackle teacher absenteeism.
Before addressing teachers who often times go missing, Superintendent Ron Duerring spoke highly of the thousands who do show up to work everyday.
Out of 2,000 teachers in Kanawha County, administrators estimate a few hundred are regularly missing work.
"I would say 200 or 300 teachers," Carol Hamric, administrator of human resources said. "The same names over and over."
The Senate Education Committee wanted to know what to do to keep teachers in the classrooms.
As it stands, the 15 paid days are given up front and it comes at a huge cost. Kanawha County spent more than $4 million last year to pay for substitute teachers in the 2011-2012 school year. If you add additional service days and education advancement for substitute teachers, administrators say more than $7 million was spent. More than $104 million was spent on full-time teachers.
The fix from county administrators was proposed Tuesday afternoon, pushing for teachers to earn the days over time, rather than being given them up front. They say it's already been done in Florida, Texas and Ohio. Under the proposal, a teacher would earn a day and a half for every month they work, still figuring out to at least 15 days a year.
Duerring says the other problem is that the school system can't take progressive action against a teacher abusing the policy. He wants to see lawmakers give more flexibility to counties so they can correct the problem.
WSAZ.com found that currently, all administrators can do with an often-times absent teacher is talk with the teacher, offer counseling, or send a letter reminding that teacher to show up for work.
"That's less services and less instruction that we're providing students," Duerring said. "We're in session 180 days, and we'd like to keep those regular employees in the classroom or in the school as much as possible."
No one has proposed taking away sick time, just changing the way it's given to teachers to make sure they're in the classroom as much as possible.
The WVEA told WSAZ.com it wants to see county school systems deal with any one problem teacher. Leaders expressed that a high percentage of teachers do their job and put in more time than what's required.
Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.
The majority of teachers, we found, follow the rules and work hard. However, talking attendance has the State Department of Education crunching the numbers. Lawmakers hope to prevent teachers from abusing the system.
School officials say every teacher in the state is given 15 paid days off per year, but that also comes at a cost.
Kanawha County has tried to tackle truancy. Last year, students showed up 93.88 percent of the time. Surprisingly, we found teachers came to work at a lower rate, 93.43 percent of the time.
"Your responsibility is to be in the classroom teaching students," Senator Erik Wells said. "We don't want to take away sick time but we also don't want employees abusing it either."
Wells is vice chair for the Committee on Education. He told WSAZ.com some teachers are missing more school than students.
WSAZ.com did some digging and found absences similar to students statewide. During the past three years, Jackson and Gilmer counties have had the lowest percentages of teacher attendance. That percentage doesn't include professional development days. Kanawha County falls in the middle of the pack.
"There is no solution, we've tried everything," Kanawha County School Board President Pete Thaw said. "The solution is for them to get religion."
Dale Lee with the West Virginia Education Association points to a bigger problem of a teacher shortage. Beyond that, he says teachers are just more likely to get sick and need the days off.
"It's not being abused; it's being used for the purpose of it," WVEA President Dale Lee said. "The vast majority of teachers are very dedicated to the classroom, and they're going to show up even on the days that they shouldn't."
Teachers are given 15 total days off per year, but Wells and other school leaders argue too much of the budget is used to pay for teachers who are out sick.
"There could be a sizable amount of money that could be saved, and that money, in turn, could go back into the classroom to help student achievement," Wells said. "We need to be focusing on teacher absenteeism."
The Senate Committee in Education plans to tackle this problem. Tuesday, the superintendent of Kanawha County Schools will testify during the committee meeting, then look at solutions to keep teachers in the classroom.
Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information on this investigation.
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