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Absenteeism hurts education in W.Va.

Kanawha County School Superintendent Ron Duerring, testifying before the state Senate Education Committee, suggested that legislators revise state law on paid leave.

He then proceeded to make a very persuasive case for such a change.

The Kanawha County school system shells out $4.6 million a year for substitute teachers, Duerring said.

He estimates a change in state law on paid leave could help his county cut that cost in half.

With 54 other counties to think about, such an economy would be worth pursuing.

Duerring stressed that the vast majority of Kanawha County's 2,000 teachers do not abuse paid leave time.

But between 200 and 300 teachers in Kanawha County public schools used all 15 days last year.

"They have them, they feel it's an entitlement, and they burn them," Carol Hamric, human resources director for the Kanawha County school system, told legislators. "That's the word that's used."

This entitlement mentality is what runs up the substitute costs, and Duerring contended it hurts education, too.

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

Duerring suggests changing state law governing how 15 days of paid leave is doled out, with teachers accruing paid leave not all at once in the beginning of the year, but over time as the year progresses.

He also proposed making the law flexible enough to rein in teachers who abuse the system.

Senate Education Vice Chairman Erik Wells, D-Kanawha, was sympathetic to the problem.

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

The public recognize that teachers, bus drivers and other school employees are exposed daily to children, who can be magnets for germs. That may explain the extraordinarily high number of paid leave days for these employees.

But the public expects those days to be used sparingly, not simply because they are there.



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