The American-Statesman has found that Central Texas teachers have been absent on average between 10 and 16 instructional days during the 2010-11 school year. The data was turned over to the Statesman in response to Freedom of Information requests. Overall, the Statesman estimated that teacher absences cost school districts around $22 million a year.
Not all Central Texas districts had the same problems with absent teachers. In the school district of Georgetown, teachers averaged less than 10 absences a year, but they were the only ones who were below average. Even Georgetown slightly exceeded the national average which is 9.5.
Overall, spending on substitutes is less than 2 percent of the operating budgets for the nine Central Texas districts interviewed. Hutto, which had 5,417 students in 2010-11 and is the smallest of the districts surveyed, spent $416,000, while Austin, the largest with more than 86,000, spent $10 million.
Although many districts are forced to tighten their belt due to falling tax revenues and budget cuts at the state level, district officials still don't cite the money spent on substitutes as a concern, although some like Austin and Leander, said that they were looking for ways to trim substitute expenses.
The Statesman looked at two distinct types of teacher absences: sick and personal days and days to attend training mandated by the school, the district or the state.
In the 2010-11 school year, teachers in the Hays and Bastrop districts led with the highest number of sick or personal leave days at just over 10 days on average. Bastrop spent $740,497 on subs; Hays spent more than $1 million.
Leander teachers had the fewest, averaging five sick or personal days, but led with the highest number of absences for professional development at 11. Substitute teachers in 2010-11 cost the district $2 million.
The ongoing training requirements imposed by the districts account for the remainder of the absences, but some districts are taking the step of reducing the requirements by as much as half as a money-saving measure. Although Leander has made the commitment to do so, its assistant superintendent Monta Akin is conflicted by the decision since the money saved via reduced training is offset by the reduction in opportunities to introduce improved teaching techniques or resources into the classroom.
"We've always weighed the cost with removing those teachers from the class with the benefits of improved instructional practice by having teachers receive ongoing training throughout the year," Akin said. "Research after research in professional development indicates you might as well not do training if you're not going to do follow up."
The issue of teacher absenteeism isn't unique to Texas or even the U.S. A recent investigation by U.K's The Daily Telegraph found that more than half of the country's teachers took off at least 8.2 days sick in the past year.
The Telegraph in the UK reports that 56% of teachers in English state schools were signed off with illness at some point during the 2010/11 school year. This represents a rise from the still astonishingly high figure of 52% the previous year. The absences mark a significant expense for the taxpayer who has to cover the millions of pounds cost each year to provide supply teachers to cover the absent staff.