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Study: Absent Philly teachers cost district millions

By   /   April 5, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 24 of 28 in the series Pennsylvania's Ghost Teachers

Philadelphia teachers don’t show up to work enough, according to a blistering study recently conducted by the Philadelphia School Partnership.

School District of Philadelphia

COSTLY SICK DAYS: A recent study found an increasing number of Philadelphia teachers aren’t showing up for work, which costs the district millions each year.

The paper, titled “Philadelphia’s Teacher Attendance Problem,” found the School District of Philadelphia suffers from “concentrated teacher absenteeism,” which costs the district millions of dollars and negatively impacts student learning in the classroom.

The study reports 118 Philly schools carry teacher attendance rates below 95 percent, 17 schools are below 90 percent and four have teacher attendance below 85 percent. Nationally, big-city teacher attendance is typically around 94 percent, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality.

As of Feb. 19, 2016, PSP found, through the district’s vacancy list and additional reporting by Newsworks.org, 100 schools were below that mark.

At 80.38 percent, Gen. Harry Labrum Middle School has the worst attendance rate in the city, according to the analysis.

Since the start of the school year, schools with teacher attendance rates below the national average cost the district nearly $3 million in lost wages, according to PSP Policy Manager Clifford Thomas, the author of the study.

“Assuming these rates hold steady through the end of the school year, teacher absenteeism could cost the District over $5.1 million in lost wages,” Thomas wrote.

Thomas found teacher absenteeism hurts in three ways: absent teachers do not fulfill their responsibility as an instructional professional, chronic absenteeism puts an unfair burden on teachers forced to cover those classrooms and students do not receive consistent instruction from their full-time teacher.

“It would be unfair and unrealistic to expect all teachers to maintain a 100 percent attendance rate,” Thomas said. “That said, I can’t imagine a workplace that would tolerate employees missing one out of every 10 days of work, let alone the one in five in some of Philadelphia’s District schools.”

District spokesman Fernando Gallard said the district has not conducted an analysis of the study.

“Attendance is something we always want to see improved,” he said. “But something that we have heard from teachers and principals is that a lot of teachers, this year in particular, have not been taking time off because of the challenge we have with the teacher vacancies. When you take time off, you’re putting pressure on your colleagues to cover for you.”

Northeast High School topped all city schools with 1,297 total teacher absences, which excludes 396 absences due to full-time vacancies. Abraham Lincoln High School was second with 638 absences not related to vacancies.

PSP is a philanthropic organization that invests in the startup, expansion and turnaround of public and private schools. The organization donated $10.5 million to five city charter schools in December and offered to help expand the city’s charter network with a $35 million donation last year, which the district declined.

The district is already short-staffed, which the report notes. Philly schools are looking to hire 800 new teachers this year, including 150 full-time vacancies never filled for the current school year.

The staffing challenge is compounded by the low fill rate for substitute positions. Last year, the district contracted Souce4Teachers, a substitute staffing firm, but the company is filling less than half of the district’s daily needs.

“It’s slowly improving,” Gallard said. “The rate was in the mid-40s a few weeks ago, which is an improvement, but not where we expected to be at this time.”

Last year, the district awarded a $34 million contract to the Cherry Hill-based Source4Teachers to improve substitute teaching fill rates. The company was expected to improve on a 64 percent fill rate and promised a 75 percent rate on the first day of school and 90 percent by Jan. 1, 2016.

“Let’s continue the conversation about Source4Teachers,” Thomas said. “It hasn’t gone well, and we should demand that fill rates are improved. But let’s first have a more difficult and important conversation, one that ensures that all of our schools’ teachers make it to school at least as often as our children do.”

Part of 28 in the series Pennsylvania's Ghost Teachers
  1. Philly ghost teachers made more than $1.7M last year
  2. Week in Review: Plenty of scary news for Pennsylvania taxpayers
  3. PA Week in Review: Beer battles continue dispute veto of liquor bill
  4. Week in Review: Kane target of more investigations
  5. Pennsylvania labor union leaders blast 401(k) plans they offer their own staff
  6. Pennsylvania labor union leaders blast 401(k) plans they offer their own staff
  7. Education week-in-review: Ghosts and quotas
  8. Lawsuit aims to bust Philadelphia ‘ghost teachers’
  9. Lawsuit aims to bust Philadelphia ‘ghost teachers’
  10. Fairness group files lawsuit over ‘ghost teachers’
  11. Philly ghost teachers made more than $1.7M last year
  12. Education week-in-review: Ghost teachers and the ghost of Jim Crow
  13. Judge grants ‘ghost teachers’ freedom to roam
  14. How lawyers plan to bust Philadelphia’s ‘ghost teachers’
  15. How lawyers plan to bust Philadelphia’s ‘ghost teachers’
  16. Pennsylvania lawmakers plan to take on ‘ghost teachers’
  17. Lawmakers plan to take on ‘ghost teachers’
  18. Pennsylvania lawmakers introduce a bill to bust ‘ghost teachers’
  19. Pennsylvania lawmakers introduce a bill to bust ‘ghost teachers’
  20. Taxpayers subsidize union politics of ‘ghost teachers’
  21. Lawsuit takes aim at Allentown ‘ghost teachers’
  22. Senate bill aims to bust ‘ghost teachers’
  23. Allentown schools cry poverty, pay ‘ghost teachers’
  24. Study: Absent Philly teachers cost district millions
  25. Philly ‘ghost teachers’ making $1.5 million this year
  26. Pension agency: Ghost teachers ‘must be removed’
  27. New bill to bust ‘ghost teachers’ advances
  28. Pennsylvania pension agency docks ‘ghost teachers’ credit

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Evan was formerly a Pennsylvania-based education reporter for Watchdog.org.