News Story

One in Four Of This District’s Teachers Missed More Than 20 Days of School

Michigan’s use of substitutes much higher than national average

The student handbook of the Plymouth-Canton public school district says that a principal may intervene if a student misses 20 days of school, with consequences that could be as harsh as criminal prosecution. It does not matter whether those absences are excused.

Yet 268 of Plymouth-Canton’s 970 teachers — 28 percent — were not in their classrooms on 20 or more days in the 2016-17 school year. This is out of a 186.5-day annual work schedule.

The average number of days missed by each teacher in the district, which straddles the line between Wayne County and Washtenaw County, was 17.36 days last year. The median number was 14 days. Both numbers were provided by Plymouth-Canton Public Schools in response to an open records request.

Many media outlets of late have reported on substitute teacher shortages, and University of Michigan economist Don Grimes says that this state uses substitute teachers much more often than the national average. It is against this background that Michigan Capitol Confidential is examining how often full-time public school teachers miss school.

Grimes reported on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures showing that substitute teachers account for 18.0 percent of all K-12 teachers in Michigan. This is much higher than the national average of 12.3 percent.

Michigan Capitol Confidential has asked several school districts, starting with Plymouth-Canton, for the number of days teachers were out of the classroom during the most recent school year.

Superintendent Monica Merritt did not return an email or a phone call to her office seeking comment.

The Plymouth-Canton student handbook says students are not permitted to have excused absences for things such as “staying home to baby-sit” or being “needed at home.”

But a very common excused absence cause for teachers was “family illness.”

In one example, a teacher missed school and was not in the classroom on 39 days. That teacher had 23 instances of family illness spread over eight months; nine sick days; five bereavement days; one day for personal business; and one day for an out-of-district conference.

Another teacher missed 19 days, of which seven were sick days; five were for family illness; three were for personal business; three were for a field trip; and one was for bereavement.

Six teachers missed over 100 days; one missed 157, all of which were claimed as sick days.

The union contract allows teachers to earn sick days if they teach another class in lieu of the regularly scheduled planning period. The contract states that up to 180 unused sick days can be carried over from year to year, or stockpiled.

The reasons specified for valid teacher absences include the following: sickness, family illness, bereavement, personal business, out of district conference, other school business, field trip, religious holiday, curriculum workshop, jury duty, in-district meeting, union associated business and bonus personal day.

“I think it is alarming the amount of absenteeism not only in our students, but also our adult population. I think it is a problem,” said State Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Saginaw Township, who chairs the House Education Reform Committee. “If you are absent 10 percent of the time you are supposed to be on the job, I think that’s excessive. That seems like a big number to be gone.”

The union contract recognizes that leave time can be abused.

“The Association recognizes that abuses of sick leave or other leaves, chronic absence or tardiness, or willful deficiencies in professional performance by a teacher, reflect adversely upon the teaching profession and create undesirable conditions in the school system and may constitute failure on the part of the teacher to carry out his/her contractual responsibilities,” the contract states. “The Association will use its best efforts to correct breaches of professional behavior by a teacher and in appropriate cases, may institute proceedings against the offending teacher.”

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.