Millions of dollars spent on substitute teachers

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - When you call in sick, your company pays for it. When a teacher calls in sick, we the taxpayers pick up the tab. And it isn't cheap. Area school districts pay millions of dollars every year on subs, but in Henrico a special program to mitigate the cost by utilizing a hidden asset - retirees.

It is by no means an easy job. In fact, it may be the most unsung, under-paid profession in America - teaching!  But a career in education is not without its perks. There is a lot of time off. The state mandates only 180 instructional days a year, yet allows teachers 10 sick days.

And now new research indicates that when teacher's call in sick - the big loser is the student. In fact, according to a Duke University study, teacher absences lead to lower student test scores, even when substitutes fill in. NBC12 Education Specialist Dr. William Bosher agrees.

"The time with the teacher, although the substitute maybe strong, is time that cannot be recovered, or regained in any fashion, because it's instructional time, between the student who is the learner, and the teacher - who is responsible," said Bosher.

And teacher absenteeism is also costing you money - a lot of it. Under the Freedom of Information Act we requested area school districts provide us with the total number of days "missed" by teachers last year - and the cost to cover their shifts. And the numbers are staggering.

In the 2009-2010 school year - Richmond had 1,968 teachers on the payroll. The district paid $1,759,803.00 on substitutes, collectively their teachers missed 15,898 days.

In Henrico they have 3,335 full-time teachers, spent $5,000,000 on substitutes - to cover 35,920 days missed.

And Chesterfield takes the cake. They have 3,924 fulltime teachers, spent $5,583,155 on substitutes, but don't routinely track the total number of days missed. The district offered to create a special computer program just for us to come up with the number, and then bill us for it, but we declined.

But Henrico County has a creative way to keep substitute costs low. When "this" teacher is out sick, the school system turns to the post retirement earnings program - or "PREP" as it's called. This is a pool of 400 retired Henrico teachers who agree to work 24 days a year for the county, for a little extra retirement pay. The benefit is twofold; it saves money, and guarantees that the substitutes know what they're doing.

"When we have a regular teacher that's going to be out - then we can put in a veteran teacher, who can prevent having any issues with the educational program, because they understand the classroom, and the curriculum as well," said Patrick Kinlaw, Deputy Superintendent of Henrico Co. Schools.

And while substitute teachers are expensive - they are certainly plentiful. Because of the economy more people have filled applied for substitute teaching positions than ever before. So many in fact, Henrico is no longer taking applications.

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