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Duerring advocates changing system for teachers' days off

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kanawha County Schools spends $4.6 million a year on substitute teachers, and Superintendent Ron Duerring thinks the number could be cut in half if a small percentage of teachers would stop abusing the system.

Christine Campbell, president-elect for the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, said there's no evidence to suggest it's a statewide problem.

Duerring and Carol Hamric, human resources director for the Kanawha County school system, discussed the issue Tuesday at a meeting of the state Senate Education Committee.

The vast majority of the county's 2,000 teachers don't abuse their days off, Duerring stated several times. But every year, 200 to 300 teachers use all of their 15 days of paid leave in a way that he believes harms student achievement.

"Substitutes are great, but it's not the same as having your real teacher," Duerring said.

Current state law allows teachers to use any of their 15 days starting with the first day of school, Duerring said.

Hamric said many believe they should use the days whether they need to or not.

"They have them, they feel it's an entitlement, and they burn them. That's the word that's used," she said.

Duerring suggested two ideas, both requiring changes to current law.

He thinks teachers should accrue days off as the year progresses. He proposed that they earn 1.5 days of paid leave for each month of the year. The law also should be flexible enough to allow for punishment of teachers who take advantage of the system, he said.

Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha, found the first idea particularly interesting.

Wells, the vice chairman of the education committee, has asked about teacher absenteeism in the past. Like Duerring, he said it's not a problem with most teachers. But any fix could save money across the state, he said.

"It's a small group of folks that we're talking about, but it's real dollars that add up. And those dollars are better spent in the classroom helping a student learn than paying for substitutes," Wells said. 

While Duerring said he had discussed the problem with several other superintendents, Campbell of the AFT said she wasn't sure there was a teacher absentee issue statewide. In her opinion, it's more "teacher bashing."

"It's punishing everyone for a select number of people," Campbell said. "We're not talking about bad teachers; we're talking about attendance."

Wells said he wanted to talk with Duerring more about the specific code changes he would like to see, but he thought a bill could be introduced in the next week or so.

Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or david.boucher@dailymail.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1.


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