How Your District’s Teacher Absence Policy is Costing You Money

Employers typically provide their employees with a number of paid absences each year. It is a proactive approach that can enhance productivity. For school districts, this includes their teacher absence policy, the paid sick and/or personal days provided for in the annual contract.

Your teacher absence policy affects daily operations, but it also affects your bottom line. When a teacher is absent, there is a void in the classroom, which must be filled to manage students and maintain instructional continuity. But besides the paid absence days guaranteed to staff, there are also costs associated with maintaining classroom coverage. When the hard and soft costs are added up, you may find that your district’s current teacher absence policy is costing you too much money.

Common Reasons for Teacher Absences

In any job, there are days when an employee must be absent. Despite the fact that most teachers have their summers free, there are days during the school year when absence becomes necessary. These are some of the more common reasons:

Personal illness – Illness is unpredictable and can occur at any time during the year. Teacher illness may require one or more days absent depending on the diagnosis and the time required for recovery.

Family member’s illness – The illness of a family member is another reason for which teachers take time off. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), all public and private elementary and secondary school employees are entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year for the employee’s illness, the serious health condition of an immediate family member, or the birth, adoption, or foster care placement of a child.

Personal emergency/personal business – Whether for appointments or personal business, situations arise that must be resolved during the school day. Teachers’ contracts often allow a day or two per year for personal business and emergencies. 

Bereavement – The death of an immediate family member necessitates time to grieve and make funeral arrangements. Teacher contracts often have provisions for bereavement leave.  

In-service training and professional development – Since education is such a dynamic field with changing curricula and evolving learning standards, teachers must continue to learn and develop their practice. Periodically, this requires time away from the classroom. The benefits gained through professional development are generally regarded as justification for the short-term absences.

Jury duty – Like employees in other fields, teachers are expected to perform their civic duty by serving jury duty, and school districts must provide coverage. Fortunately, once served, this obligation is not expected again for a specific number of years (dependent on the state and the court).

Mental health – When job and/or personal stresses pile up, some teachers opt for a “mental health day” that gives them an opportunity to de-stress away from the demands of the classroom. The need for mental health breaks may occur more frequently when morale is low, when conditions are particularly harsh, or when there is a lack of sufficient support.

Analyzing the Costs of Teacher Absence

Though providing paid absence days for teachers helps them achieve work-life balance, there is a financial cost to the school district. Besides paying a teacher for their contractually-required day off, the district must foot the cost of a substitute teacher for the day. On top of the daily rate, there are numerous other costs involved in the recruitment, hiring, and employment of substitutes. In fact, the hard and soft costs of substitute teacher services nationwide are estimated to exceed $4 billion annually, an amount equivalent to 1% of all K-12 spending. 

As school districts face the financial price of teacher absence, there is also a toll on the district’s students. Without good, solid instruction, a teacher’s absence can mean a lost day of learning for students. And, if substitute teachers are not available, as has often been the case in recent years, there may also be a cost to other staff members repeatedly required to welcome additional students or forgo preparation and planning periods to cover for their absent colleagues. It is clear, then, that beyond the financial costs of teacher absence, learning loss, and loss of morale add an intangible toll to the total price tag. 

Handling Teacher Absences Effectively

Many school districts across the U.S. are taking an alternate approach to substitute teacher staffing as an amendment to their teacher absence policy. By partnering with a substitute teacher staffing agency, they are addressing not only the financial cost but also minimizing the losses associated with teacher absences. An efficient and effective staffing company can help to keep the soft costs under control and utilized as effectively as possible, as substitutes are recruited, hired, and managed long-term.

Beyond the financial benefits, highly qualified and properly trained substitutes can help to prevent learning loss by providing a solid day of instruction during which lesson plans are implemented and student needs are addressed. In addition, when school districts work with a substitute staffing agency, they can often increase absence fill rates, thereby eliminating those occasions when other staff must sacrifice their planning periods to cover unfilled absences. Working with a substitute staffing agency can help keep costs under control while minimizing losses to your school community.

Teacher absences are inevitable. Contact ESS for help with substitute teacher staffing and management services. As our 700+ partner districts have discovered, we have custom solutions designed to minimize both soft costs and learning losses.