Curbing Costly School Problem

Something more needs to be done to lessen absenteeism among Ohio County public school employees. That is painfully apparent, at least from the taxpayers’ point of view.

Absenteeism has been a chronic problem in the school system for many years. It has grown so bad that it costs the Ohio County Board of Education, and thus taxpayers, more than $1 million a year to hire substitutes for employees who “call off.”

Imagine how much good for students could be done by that much money, or even a fraction of it.

During their meeting this week, school board members heard a proposal aimed at reducing absenteeism. It came from Jerry Ames, who is president of the Ohio County School Service Personnel Association, and vice president of the state association.

Ames said the Wheeling YMCA has agreed to offer school employees a special price for membership, $200 a year. Their spouses could join for an additional $85 a year.

Membership at the YMCA offers access to a variety of programs and facilities, such as exercise equipment, that can improve health. That could mean fewer days off sick for school employees.

Ames asked that the board consider paying the $200 annual membership fee for school employees. He said he expected 25 percent of the about 800 school personnel would participate, costing the board $40,000 a year.

Would that help reduce absenteeism? It is difficult to say. County officials should be checking with other school districts to learn whether anything similar is being done elsewhere and, if so, whether it has helped.

School employees are allotted 14 days a year when they can be absent from their jobs for any reason, including sickness. Only after that number of days has been used do they suffer any financial penalty. In addition to their regular pay, those who manage to stay within the 14-day limit receive an end-of-year bonus of $1,350.

Missing work, whether one is a school worker or someone employed in the private sector, sometimes is unavoidable. When you’re sick, you’re sick. When important personal business has to be taken care of on a work day, a “call off” is understandable.

But a million dollars a year in pay for substitutes certainly seems to be a lot of money. Is there any way to reduce absenteeism and thus, cut the cost for substitutes — and avoid adverse effects on students?

School officials have talked about the problem for years. Now, in addition to considering Ames’ proposal, they should determine what else they can do about it.

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