A San Francisco public school teacher who is fighting a serious illness will have the cost of her replacement — a substitute — deducted from her paycheck while she is out on extended sick leave.
This law in the California Education Code was crafted by the state Legislature and the governor back in the early 1970s. Since then districts and unions across the state have come up with sick leave donation banks as a workaround to help teachers in these dire situations, but even these arrangements force instructors to take partial pay before they can accept sick days donated by their colleagues.
“That’s not the employee’s responsibility, that’s the employer’s responsibility,” said San Francisco parent Amanda Kahn Fried.
In San Francisco, the cost of the substitute is $203.16 per day. The average teacher in the district makes $82,024.37. But even a veteran teacher who makes more will only get about half their daily pay while out on extended leave after their sub’s payment is deducted.
In Oakland, which has a similar policy, the union filed a grievance this week against the district arguing that it is failing to convert unused personal days to a teachers’ sick leave accrual at the end of each year — a move that would further shortchange a teacher facing a serious illness and who must rely on sick days to help pay the bills.
At a time when teachers are scrambling to find ways to afford living in the pricey Bay Area, the situation has infuriated some parents and teachers at the San Francisco school who are mobilizing support for the teacher, who asked not to be identified out of privacy concerns.
“I just can’t believe how grossly unfair it is,” Kahn Fried said.
“Can you imagine telling doctors they have to pay for their replacements or truck drivers? It just doesn’t make sense. That’s not the employee’s responsibility, that’s the employer’s responsibility,” she added.
The law that calls for districts to deduce the cost of a substitute from teachers’ paychecks when they are out on extended leave has caught the attention of State. Sen. Connie Leyva.
“It really does seem like we need to do something to rectify this problem,” said Leyva.
Leyva, who heads the Senate’s education committee, said the law may be outdated: “Maybe what worked back then doesn’t work now and maybe we need to reconsider that law.”
Several teachers at the San Francisco public school tried to donate their unused sick leave days to their colleague, but learned she had never joined the catastrophic sick bank pool. Teachers must have joined that pool during eligibility periods to qualify to receive sick days from the bank.
“It’s kind of a raw deal if you are dealing with a catastrophic illness and then on top of that you get a tiny paycheck,” said Chuck King, negotiator with the California Teachers Association.
However, the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) said there is a workaround for a teacher who is not eligible for the sick bank leave donation. The district allows one of these teachers to donate a day on her behalf. In this way, the teacher battling illness can become eligible and eventually receive more donations from fellow teachers.
However, those donated days can’t be used until after the teacher exhausts their extended sick leave at partial pay first — a period of 100 days. The United Federation of Educators, the union representing San Francisco educators, said there may be a wellness grant she can apply for, but that presumes she has the energy at this stage of her illness to advocate for herself.
Sen. Leyva is questioning whether the state should leave it to school districts to bargain this issue with their teachers.
“I don’t know that we ever negotiate enough to make sure that when people are out on sick leave they have what they need, but I’d never heard of this until I got here to the Senate,” she said of the law.
“It was likely a compromise to limit the cost of a district’s liability,” said Chuck King, a negotiator with the California Teachers Association.
King said if the California Department of Education Code were changed to take the burden off of teachers the state would have to come up with money to fund it to avoid forcing already cash-strapped districts to pay both the teacher and her substitute over extended periods of time.
The costs of attracting substitutes have been going up at a higher rate than teachers’ pay, which can make things worse: “It’s always a big thing when it comes up because there is a lot of sympathy,” King added.
SFUSD said it could not provide the number of teachers who took extended leave last year and had their paychecks pro-rated to subtract the cost of their replacement subs. The district said in a statement that classified employees pay into the state’s disability program, but certified teachers do not.
Both SFUSD and the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) pointed to state code as the reason they deduct the cost of a substitute from the paycheck of the teacher on extended leave. But it’s up to districts and their unions to work out leave agreements, said Cynthia Butler of the California Department of Education.
Few large districts across the country pro-rate the paychecks of sick teachers to pay the cost of their subs. In Chicago, for example, teachers out for serious long-term illness receive 100% of their pay for the first 30 days, 80% of full-time pay for days 31 through 60 and 60% of their paycheck for days 61 through 90. That’s after they’ve used up all 10 sick days plus any accrued sick time. Fellow teachers can donate their sick days to a colleague for use at any time.
According to the National Council on Teacher Quality, which keeps a database on teacher leave policies nationwide, only 22 districts out of 148 — including the country’s largest — have some form of leave where teachers are paid their salary minus the cost of their substitute.
San Francisco teachers interviewed about their colleague’s situation were reluctant to speak because she’d asked for privacy. Parent Kahn Fried said it shouldn’t come to parents and colleagues to raise money to cover the cost of the substitute for their teacher.
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