Photo: Alison Yin/EdSource
This article was originally published by KQED

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Leyva, who heads the Senate’s education committee, said the law may be outdated: “Maybe what worked back then doesn’t work now and maybe we need to reconsider that law.”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.

We need your help ...

Unlike many news outlets, EdSource does not secure its content behind a paywall. We believe that informing the largest possible audience about what is working in education — and what isn't — is far more important.

Once a year, however, we ask our readers to contribute as generously as they can so that we can do justice to reporting on a topic as vast and complex as California's education system — from early education to postsecondary success.

Thanks to support from several philanthropic foundations, EdSource is participating in NewsMatch. As a result, your tax-deductible gift to EdSource will be worth three times as much to us — and allow us to do more hard hitting, high-impact reporting that makes a difference. Don’t wait. Please make a contribution now.

Share Article

Comments (10)

Leave a Reply to Paul

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * *

Comments Policy

We welcome your comments. All comments are moderated for civility, relevance and other considerations. Click here for EdSource's Comments Policy.

  1. Fawn Myers 6 months ago6 months ago

    Differential pay is a much more generous employer-provided leave allowance than available in the private sector. Catastrophic illness leave and extended parenthood leave are both available options for teachers who are entitled to full pay while they use their accrued leave balance and then differential pay once the balance is depleted. Since teachers do not contribute to State Disability Insurance, differential pay is, in essence, an income protection plan for the employee while … Read More

    Differential pay is a much more generous employer-provided leave allowance than available in the private sector. Catastrophic illness leave and extended parenthood leave are both available options for teachers who are entitled to full pay while they use their accrued leave balance and then differential pay once the balance is depleted. Since teachers do not contribute to State Disability Insurance, differential pay is, in essence, an income protection plan for the employee while also ensuring that the total cost to a district to staff for one classroom does not exceed the cost of one teacher.

    If reform is made, it must be at the state level to include teachers in the State Disability Insurance plan which equalizes the leave benefit to all workers. Otherwise, a district that must pay for a teacher on leave as well as paying for the replacement is a financial burden that would erode any possible raises in a salary schedule for all teachers.

  2. Math Teacher 7 months ago7 months ago

    Wow! Just because private sector workers are often getting screwed over – and being denied sick leave – doesn't mean we should do the same to public school teachers. Paid sick leave is hardly that and hardly fair when the person who is out ill, facing personal upheavals and financial struggles, has to pay for their substitute, too. Claiming that this is just another "poor pitiful teacher myth" is patronizing. It's also … Read More

    Wow! Just because private sector workers are often getting screwed over – and being denied sick leave – doesn’t mean we should do the same to public school teachers. Paid sick leave is hardly that and hardly fair when the person who is out ill, facing personal upheavals and financial struggles, has to pay for their substitute, too.

    Claiming that this is just another “poor pitiful teacher myth” is patronizing. It’s also uninformed. Try being a school teacher. Trying working long hours in a bureaucratic system, with a lack of resources, in physically decaying circumstances, with overcrowded conditions, excessive demands, interfering administrators and legislators, with distracted or hungry students, broken families, mandates that run counter to what you know is best for children, etc. You’ll soon change your tune.

    There is massive teacher burnout. Up to half leave the career within 5 years. Those who leave report greater job satisfaction, more support, more control over their work, and more professional independence than they had as teachers. It’s a thankless job and comments like these from armchair critics just make it worse.

  3. Lisa Schaub 7 months ago7 months ago

    Newsflash, Kahn Fried. If you are a doctor and you are out on sick leave, you don’t get paid. No work= no income. Hence we need to plan ahead. This is extremely generous.

  4. Paul 7 months ago7 months ago

    Some of the comments reflect quick assumptions and lack of knowledge on the part of people who have never worked in the classroom. California State Disability Insurance provides paid disability and family leave to private-sector workers, who contribute 1% of their own pay. By default, teachers working for public school districts are excluded. Even though teachers would like to participate in CASDI, they generally cannot. Large private employers typically contract with private insurers to supplement CASDI. Private … Read More

    Some of the comments reflect quick assumptions and lack of knowledge on the part of people who have never worked in the classroom.

    California State Disability Insurance provides paid disability and family leave to private-sector workers, who contribute 1% of their own pay. By default, teachers working for public school districts are excluded. Even though teachers would like to participate in CASDI, they generally cannot.

    Large private employers typically contract with private insurers to supplement CASDI. Private benefits start sooner, last longer, and/or replace a bigger share of a person’s income. The employer pays premiums for everyone, or makes the plan optional and charges those who opt-in. Private plans are economical only because the covered groups are large.

    A look through EdJoin and the hiring districts’ employee benefit Web pages will confirm that private disability insurance is rare in California public school districts.

    Of the six school districts and county offices I ever worked for, only one had private disability insurance. The plan was optional, employee-paid, and only available to teachers in temporary, probationary or permanent status. (You’d be surprised how many classrooms are staffed by teachers in substitute status. It’s one of 4 employment classifications, and in this context, the word has nothing to do with the credential or permit held, nor with day-to-day work. Of course, day-to-day substitutes earn even less, so they would have an even greater need for disability insurance.)

    Disability insurance purchased by an isolated individual — if such coverage can be found — is subject to medical underwriting, costs more than CASDI or a group plan, and provides inferior benefits.

  5. Todd Maddison 7 months ago7 months ago

    Ditto to all of the comments so far. Just another example of the “poor pitiful teacher” myth.

    In any private business out there, once vacation is exhausted, if additional coverage is not purchased then there is no pay, not simply half pay.

    Key question here is why the KQED reporter says nothing about this, as if it’s not common knowledge. Wonder what KQED’s policy for it’s own employees is?

  6. Michele 7 months ago7 months ago

    This is a very misleading article! As others have already pointed out - teachers pay nothing for disability insurance. In all other jobs, the employee pays disability insurance, either through payroll deductions, or by obtaining a private policy. Any teacher can elect to get a private policy. The school districts continue to pay teachers their full pay less the cost of the sub (much less then what the teacher makes) even after … Read More

    This is a very misleading article! As others have already pointed out – teachers pay nothing for disability insurance. In all other jobs, the employee pays disability insurance, either through payroll deductions, or by obtaining a private policy. Any teacher can elect to get a private policy. The school districts continue to pay teachers their full pay less the cost of the sub (much less then what the teacher makes) even after they’ve used up all their sick leave. They also receive full benefits, and the districts continue to fund their generous retirements as well.

    While I am happy that teachers in California are well paid, these kind of articles are disingenuous and misleading.

  7. Larry Teixeira 7 months ago7 months ago

    Why does the state or the employer have to fix this? For a few bucks a month teachers can buy disability insurance (ever see the Aflac duck ad on TV?) to help protect against a long term illness. Employees need to take some responsibility for their own well being and not depend on legislators to fix everything.

  8. California Classified Employee 7 months ago7 months ago

    This article and issue infuriates me. What happens in most cases when a person runs out of sick leave when they are facing an illness? The employer does not pay them anything, and they rely on the state for disability leave pay - which used to be about 50% of your pay and recently went up to 60%, I believe. In the numbers listed in the article the average teacher pay is … Read More

    This article and issue infuriates me. What happens in most cases when a person runs out of sick leave when they are facing an illness? The employer does not pay them anything, and they rely on the state for disability leave pay – which used to be about 50% of your pay and recently went up to 60%, I believe.

    In the numbers listed in the article the average teacher pay is listed as $82,024.37. That is a rate of $445.78 per day (teachers are paid in most cases 184 days). That leaves the pay at $242.62 per day after deducting the cost of the sub. So an average (not veteran) teacher will get about half of their daily rate. I am also curious if the “cost of a substitute” number is just the daily rate for the sub or includes the statutory benefits, which are not deducted from the teacher’s pay. Furthermore, teachers have an option to purchase disability insurance, and since they do not pay in to the California disability system as most privately employed people have to it, is always a good idea, and the amount of pay becomes anywhere between 75%-100% depending on coverage selected.

    The students should not have to pay for the teacher’s shortfall of opting not to insure herself. To force a district to pay for a teacher and a substitute will only pull more resources away from the classrooms and students for a state that is one of the lowest in rankings for the amount of funding per student but almost the highest in teacher pay, second only to New York.

  9. Kassidy R Salters 7 months ago7 months ago

    I actually think the differential pay is extremely generous considering in the private sector, if an employee uses all sick leave available, the employee is forced to continue leave without pay, period. The differential pay model allows teachers to continue to receive some pay while on leave instead of losing all pay during the period he or she is out. Cash strapped districts should not be expected to pay the salary for an employee who … Read More

    I actually think the differential pay is extremely generous considering in the private sector, if an employee uses all sick leave available, the employee is forced to continue leave without pay, period. The differential pay model allows teachers to continue to receive some pay while on leave instead of losing all pay during the period he or she is out. Cash strapped districts should not be expected to pay the salary for an employee who is not actually working and the whole cost of the replacement.

    Replies

    • Kkay 7 months ago7 months ago

      Why not, Kassidy? Districts expect teachers to work without pay all the time, so why can’t they pay them their salary when they can’t?