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Senate committee defeats bill to require school staff accrue leave time

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A bill that would have required full-time school personnel to accrue personal leave on a monthly basis was defeated in the Senate Education Committee March 28.

West Virginia teachers are given 15 sick days for the full school year at the beginning of the year. The bill would have given new employees six personal leave days at the beginning of their employment, and they would not begin accruing time until the end of their fifth employment month.

Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha, said the bill started from conversations with a Board of Education member in Boone County who told him in February how much money substitute teachers cost the county -- $200,000, according to Wells, who then checked in Kanawha County, where he learned the process cost $4.6 million.

"I think it's important the committee take a look, particularly in today's times where finances are very tight," Wells said during the committee meeting.

Wells said he met with both the American Federation of Teachers – West Virginia and the West Virginia Education Association about the bill, and "they weren't happy."

Wells said the issues of substitute teacher costs and payments for sick days that were not earned go beyond just Kanawha County.

Wells said teacher absenteeism cost Cabell County "well over $545,000," and in Nicholas County, it cost $916,000.

"These are real dollars here," Wells said. "Real dollars that could go into the classroom." 

WVEA President Dale Lee told lawmakers the numbers don't show the real picture.

"You can't just see a substitute cost and say, ‘Oh, man, this is an epidemic of teachers not showing up for class.'"

Lee said maternity leaves and medical leaves of absence are valid reasons for long-term substitute teachers.

"I contend this should be a management issue rather than passing a blanket policy for it," Lee said. "This would hurt the newest, youngest teachers at a time when we're taking everything away from them anyway."

Lee called the bill a "slap in the face," during a time when the state is having difficulty hiring teachers.

Lee also told lawmakers teachers are among children with different types of illnesses every day, so teachers are apt to get sick more often.

"You'd be making a rule, in my opinion, for a small minority of people, and it's going to hurt a lot more people than it will help," Lee said. "You can make averages say anything you want to."

Before hearing from Kanawha County Superintendent Ron Deurring, lawmakers heard briefly from Judy Hale with AFT-WV. Hale said lawmakers were looking at a lot of misinformation.

"Dr. Duerring is, quite frankly, notorious for waiting past the deadline and hiring a long-term substitute for a year so he doesn't have to pay benefits to that person," Hale said.

Duerring told lawmakers Hale "continues to try to drive a wedge between teachers and administrators in general."

Duerring said the bill would let school systems "operate a little bit more efficiently," and it does not target teachers, but would apply to all full-time school personnel.

The bill was defeated by a voice vote.