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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

November 18, 2014 at 6:15 AM

Substitute teachers: Improve absenteeism to fix problem

The recent article on the shortage of substitute teachers suggested that schools are finding it difficult to find qualified substitutes to fill all the need [“Daily problem for schools: There aren’t enough substitutes,” Local News, Nov. 13]. As a former member of the Seattle School Board, I remember that also being an issue during the 1990s.

Part of the problem, not mentioned in the article, is the high level of absenteeism that many districts face. Often, districts will experience 8 to 10 percent absenteeism on an annual basis. That’s 14 to 18 days of absence in a 180-day year. If that same level of absences were calculated on a 250-day work year, the rate would be 20 to 25 days of absence per year. No business could tolerate that level of absenteeism, and our schools can’t either.

In addition, when a teacher is absent, the district must not only find a substitute and pay that person $150 to $170 a day, they also have to continue to pay the absent teacher. Thus, absenteeism is an enormous financial cost to districts, not to mention the academic cost to students.

High performing schools tend to have low absenteeism rates so one quick fix to the substitute problem would be to reduce the need by working on improving the performance of schools and removing chronically absent teachers.

Don Nielsen, Seattle

Comments | More in Education | Topics: absenteeism, Don Nielsen, education

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