CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A bill designed to crack down on teacher absenteeism in West Virginia died in a Senate committee Thursday, after teachers unions sharply criticized the legislation.
In a split vote, Senate Education Committee members rejected the bill (SB514), which would have changed the way teachers and other school employees accrue sick days.
Teachers' groups said school administrators already have ways to curb sick leave abuses. Union representatives also predicted the bill would discourage young people from pursuing teaching careers.
"This is another slap in the face," said Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association. "We're making a rule for a small minority of people. It's going to hurt a lot more people than it's going to help."
West Virginia teachers and other school employees now receive 15 sick days at the beginning of the school year. They can use their sick leave whenever they choose.
The bill would have prohibited teachers from using sick leave up front. They could only take sick days after they accrued them -- at a rate of 1.5 days per month of work.
"This bill does not take away any days they've had," said Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha, who sponsored the legislation. "They will simply accrue it like other state employees."
Kanawha County Schools Superintendent Ron Duerring, who spoke in favor of the bill Thursday, said the existing sick leave law encourages teacher absenteeism. The Kanawha school system spends $4.6 million in substitute costs each year, Duerring said.
Other county school systems also spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to replace absent teachers each, according to a report and emails presented to state lawmakers Thursday.
"There's a problem here," said Sen. Clark Barnes, R-Randolph. "It's a little disconcerting to me."
The teachers' groups said the report was flawed because it included costs for long-term substitutes and teachers who take leaves of absence.
Judy Hale, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, alleged that Duerring is "notorious" for using long-term substitutes instead of hiring full-time teachers, even though the state funding formula reimburses school systems for permanent teachers.
Duerring responded that Hale always has tried to "drive a wedge" between teachers and administrators.Reach Eric Eyre at erice...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.