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Teacher absences a problem for county schools

June 01, 1998|By DAVE McMILLION

More than 100 Washington County teachers were absent from classrooms on nine days this spring, and school officials say they have had problems finding enough substitutes to cover classes.

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The highest teacher absentee rate this year was logged on April 30, when 151 teachers, or 12.5 percent of the county teaching staff, was not in the classroom, school officials said.

"I've never been in a school system where the figures are that high. I don't know what's wrong," Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett Jr. said.

In the private sector, an absentee rate above 5 percent is reason for concern, according to Bartlett.

Theresa Flak, assistant superintendent for instruction, said she is concerned that the absenteeism might be hurting instruction.

Although it appears that teachers are calling off on Thursdays and Fridays, Washington County Board of Education Director of Human Resources Phillip Ray said he could not tell if that amounts to an abuse of the system.

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Teachers can use a variety of leave for sickness, professional development, military reserve duty, vacation and other reasons, Ray said.

The absentee rates reported by school officials do not include teachers on long-term leave for reasons such as family medical leave or illness.

Sharon Chirgott, president of the Washington County Teachers Association, said part of the problem may relate to scheduling of professional development workshops and similar programs.

Chirgott said teachers have told her they were stretched thin on April 23 because of a number of extracurricular activities, including the 24 Game Math Challenge at Hagerstown Junior College.

"I think scheduling is a real critical issue. I really want to work with them to work things out," Chirgott said.

School officials determine the attendance rate by the number of requests for substitute teachers on a given day. More than 100 substitutes were requested on nine days between April 14 and May 22, Ray said.

Officials had problems finding enough substitutes to fill in on those days and had to use teachers in other classes to take over the jobs, Ray said.

"It puts a lot of strain on the system," said Ray, who has sent notices to principals outlining the rates.

Williamsport High School Principal Roger Giles said the request for substitute teachers at that school has been higher than usual on a number of days this year.

"I'm sure any principal could say that," Giles said.

Giles agreed that part of the problem might be scheduling of teacher programs.

Field trips, popular at this time of year, also can affect the attendance rate, Giles said.

An English teacher who might have a ninth- and an 11th-grade class, but wants to take a field trip that would be appropriate only for the ninth-grade class, would have to find someone to teach the 11th-grade class, Giles said.

In some cases, teachers give up portions of their planning periods to help cover classes for their colleagues, Giles said.

In such cases, teachers may end up staying after school to finish work they normally would have completed during their planning periods, said Clear Spring High School Principal John Peckyno.

"I'm sure it's an inconvenient situation for them," Peckyno said.

In the Chambersburg (Pa.) Area School District, the absentee rate was averaging about 6 percent this year, said Lynn Lerew, director of human resources.

In Jefferson County, W.Va., school officials sampled a recent day of classes and found 65 of 450 teachers were absent. Twenty-five of those teachers were out on long-term leave for reasons such as medical complications, said schools spokeswoman Liz Thompson.

If those people are subtracted from the number, Jefferson County's absentee rate that day was about 8 percent.

Thompson could not say if it was a number that bothered school officials.

"We are going to look at that," Thompson said.

Berkeley County, W.Va., schools could not provide absentee rates.

Linda Barkdoll, executive director of Human Resources for Frederick County, Md., schools, said teacher absentee rate information is not available for that district.

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