San Francisco Teacher Absence Rates Raise Eyebrows

According to new school data, the average teacher is absent more often than their students are.

Last year’s numbers state that the 4,100 teachers in San Francisco will be absent 11 times during the school year, or about once every 3 weeks.  The average student misses 5-6 days of school in the 180-day school year.

Despite 3-4 of those days being for training offered by the school, the majority make up sick or personal leave.

While 11 days is the national average for teacher absentee rates, it is far higher than other industries, where the average worker will take four days off per 365-day year.

The situation has received more attention in San Francisco, when more than 1 in 10 teachers called in sick the day before Thanksgiving break, causing a substitute shortage.  Similar issues occurred prior to several three-day weekends throughout the year.

Teacher aides, who are essential for special education classrooms, also fell suspect when 16% of the district’s 1,480 aides called out the day before the Labor Day weekend.

The National Council on Teacher Quality did find that 20% of San Francisco teachers in 2012 had called out three times or even fewer.  The study looks at data from 40 urban districts.

“One in 5 is doing a great job of being there every day,” said Nancy Waymack, a former San Francisco school district administrator.

Not including staff on disability or maternity leave, 13% of San Francisco teachers were chronically absent, missing 18 days or more over the entire year.  The average rate over the 40 districts studied by the NCTQ is 16%.

“No matter how engaging or talented they are, teachers can only have an impact if they are in the classroom,” Waymack said.

The NCTQ did find that, while the numbers do vary from teacher to teacher, they typically hold a 94% attendance rate.

“An overall 94% attendance rate shows the extraordinary dedication of teachers across the country who come to school each day ready and excited to teach,” said President Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers.

Currently, San Francisco teachers receive 10 days each year to use for sick time or personal leave.  Any unused days roll over to the following year.  All a teacher needs to do to get the day off is call an automated system.

A new system in Boston requires teachers to call a supervisor when they are need of a day off.  Implementation of this system did reduce the teacher absenteeism there.

In an effort to fix the issue, Dennis Kelly, president of the United Educators of San Francisco, suggests training teachers during the summer months rather than during school hours.

Teacher Richard Swerdlow also reminded The San Francisco Gate of the viruses that spread like wildfire throughout a school.

“Parents sometimes have to go to work, and they have no place to stash the (sick) kids, and they send them to school,” he said.

Meanwhile, the union which represents San Francisco teachers is at odds with the district over wages and other conditions for this year.  If a deal cannot be met, 99% of the 2,251 members who turned out to the meeting last week, agreed to hold a second strike vote.

Last spring the union asked for a 21% pay increase over the next three years to offset the rising cost-of-living increases in the city.  The district offered 8%.

If a consensus cannot be reached, a strike is expected in either late September or early October.