Opinion

Teachers shouldn't have to help pay for their subs

N.C. teachers must feel a lot like comic Rodney Dangerfield at times. They get no respect. Here's a small but apt illustration.

State law gives N.C. teachers two personal leave days a year. But the state bills teachers for part of the cost of hiring substitutes to take their place. Teachers had to fork over that money even if they took leave on a teacher workday when school was out and there were no students.

This legislative session part of that changed. An N.C. law approved last week lets teachers keep their money if they take a personal day when school is out and there are no students. Said bill sponsor Rep. Tricia Cotham, D-Mecklenburg: “If there is no school and no students, no substitute is needed and teachers should not have to give up any of their hard-earned money to presumably pay for one.”

Duh.

Deducting a $50 fee from teachers to pay for their substitutes is an antiquated policy that no other state in the Southeast uses. The policy got its start in the early 1960s when N.C. rules for teacher sick leave were put in place. Teachers could take a personal day but had to pay $15 for a substitute. The amount has increased over time. In 1984, personal leave days were put in a separate category and in the late 1990s, the personal leave policy became state law.

With the pay for N.C. substitutes ranging from $65 to $135 a day last year – depending on the qualifications of the sub – sometimes teachers pay nearly the entire amount. In 2006, teachers took more than 77,000 personal leave days for a cost of $6 million for substitutes. Teachers paid more than $3.8 million of the cost.

Prior to personal leave days, teachers who needed a school day off for a personal matter had to use a sick day. Some educators say some teachers have now resorted to using sick days again to avoid having to pay for someone to replace them.

It shouldn't be that way. Teachers earn personal leave each full month of employment, not to exceed two days per year. The operative word is “earn.” They shouldn't have to pay for something they earn.

Lawmakers have taken care of what Rep. Cotham, a former Teacher of the Year for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, rightly called a long-standing injustice. The cost for this change, which local school districts must absorb, is $219,290 statewide next year.

But lawmakers should end the entire practice of teachers helping pay for their substitutes. And school districts shouldn't have to absorb the costs without additional state dollars. It is, after all, a state law that requires deducting pay from teachers for subs. Leaving part of this policy in place continues to deny N.C. teachers the respect they deserve.

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