PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) - Teachers in Rhode Island's more urban districts have a higher number of sick days per school year than their counterparts in suburban districts, a Target 12 review of absentee data reveals.
Public school teachers statewide called in sick an average of nine times last year in a 184 day school year, according to figures supplied to WPRI 12. The information was supplied following a public records request to every district in the state.
Teachers in Central Falls called in sick the most at 13.1 days on average, followed by North Providence at 12.8 and Cranston with 12.4 days. Comparing those figures to student absentee rates, kids in Central Falls were absent an average of 2.7 days last year, according to data provided by school officials.
- Interactive Map: See teacher absences by district
Many superintendents pointed out that maternity leave and other extended medical absences can impact the numbers.
Timothy Duffy, head of the Rhode Island School Committee Association said an absent teacher has an "adverse effect" on students, and said union contracts can have an impact on which districts show a high number of teachers out sick.
"It's the inner city districts – the larger districts – where you see a larger percentage of absenteeism," Duffy said. "That may be due to the fact that the contract language is just loose enough to allow or afford teachers to take time when they may not be legitimately sick."
Teacher's union leader Robert Walsh of the National Education Association of Rhode Island said he doesn't agree.
"The problem in this profession is that schools are incubators for a lot of things," Walsh said, noting those in the medical profession may also have a high number of sick days. "Every flu virus, common cold and everything else eventually hits the schools and [teachers] are exposed to that."
Target 12 also examined total teacher absentee days per school district, which includes any reason an educator is not in their classroom. The reasons vary by district, but include everything from sick days, to bereavement and personal days, to professional development days.
North Providence had the highest number of teachers absent from the classroom on average last year with 19.3, followed by Providence at 19 days then Central Falls with 18.3 days on average.
The interim Superintendent in North Providence, Timothy Riley, said their district saw an "unusually high" number of teachers out on maternity leave last year, leading to the spike.
Sick calls make up the majority of days absent. For example, Providence teachers were out sick 24,203 days last year out of 38,223 total absences (there were 2,025 teachers on staff in the 2011 school year).
Walsh said school districts should try and schedule professional development days for teachers during statewide assessment tests when educators aren't actively teaching.
"There are legitimate professional development reasons for teachers to be participating in," Walsh said pointing out the rigidity of the school schedule makes taking time off difficult. "People ignore all the extra work they do, like classroom work, in the summer."
Duffy said schools may also see an uptick in absences when a district is going through a particularly difficult contract negotiation or if morale is low.
"They may be less inclined to work as faithfully as someone who seems rather content in the situation they happen to be in," Duffy said.
Lowest absentee rates
The data shows Scituate has some of the fewest sick days and overall teacher absences in the state, using 3.9 sick days on average and seven average absences.
Duffy said Chariho – the regional district covering Charlestown, Richmond and Hopkinton – is also a standout because it uses a unique "paid time off" system. Teachers accrue four days off for every quarter they work. Educators there were out of the classroom 9.6 days on average last year; well below the 16 they are allotted.
"The other contracts have five days for this, two days for that, so it adds up," Duffy said. "I think Chariho is much simpler: 'here's your set number, that's it.'"
Only four school districts did not respond to the public records request: West Warwick, Foster, Glocester, and Foster/Glocester Regional School District.