What does 90 sick days really mean?

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The concept, on its surface, often creates a reactionary spasm of disapproval in the community and online. Warwick Public School teachers get 90 sick days every year, as outlined in Section IX of the last iteration of their collective bargaining agreement.

To many, the concept is alien and excessive. However, what does this policy entail beyond the surface, and are the teachers getting a bad rap for unfair reasons?

“We don’t have short-term and long-term disability coverage,” said Warwick Teachers’ Union president Darlene Netcoh. “We have the 90 days. That’s 90 days for if you're out sick, on maternity leave, if you have to take kids home sick, or even if you have catastrophic illness, like cancer.”

Netcoh said that the 90 sick days provision of the teachers’ contract has been included since before she came to the district in 1990 and that it has been brought up as a discussion point during contract negotiations in the past, but has been deferred on due to there not being a viable replacement policy proposed yet.

Article IX of the most recent contract declares that only 70 of the 90 days provide payment to teachers at a guaranteed, full-time rate. Any sick days taken after 70 days will be held off on being paid out until the end of the school year in June, when deductions are taken out and then the remaining balance is paid. Deductions are calculated using a formula, also outlined in the contract, which comes into play after a “sick pool” of money – which is budgeted for prior to the beginning of each school year and is used to pay substitute replacement teachers – has been spent.

To get the amount of deductions each teacher must pay out of their salary at the end of a school year, you take the amount of money that was spent by the district on substitutes, subtract that by the budgeted amount of money they had allocated to pay substitutes, multiplied by the number of days absent by the individual teacher. This number is then divided by the number of total absences by all teachers to get the individual deduction.

Using this formula, teachers who rarely take sick days will pay next to nothing at the end of the year if the sick pool is used up – Superintendent Philip Thornton said on Monday that last year teachers paid $18 per sick day – while those who have suffered a chronic illness or required maternity leave will feel a significant hole in one of their paychecks at the end of the school year.

Some argue that these deductions are part of the story that is missed by outsiders who scoff at the concept of having 90 sick days.

One of those people is Allison Sgambato, whose mother Barbara Morrocco taught first grade for many years at Warwick Neck Elementary School before being diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2004. She would fight the illness for over 10 years, eventually succumbing to the disease in 2015.

“I guess people don't think of the need for short-term disability until the need arises, and by then it's too late,” Sgambato said.

Sgambato said that, although her mother fought hard to stay in the classroom during her treatment, by the end of her career (she retired in 2011) she was missing substantial time and leaning on those 90 sick days heavily.

“Many years toward the end of her career she was out a substantial amount of time,” she said. “So there were days where my mom was out sick with terminal cancer and she not only didn't get paid for sick days, but she wound up owing the school department thousands of dollars.”

Sgambato said that the deduction payments hit her family hard during the last years of her mother’s life, as the only pay coming into the house was from her father, as she and her sister were going through college.

“This was a huge part of the end of my mom's career and the end of my mom's life,” she said. “I can't stress enough how upsetting it was for her.”

Superintendent Thornton mentioned on Monday – following a hearing in Superior Court where a judge granted a temporary restraining order to prevent teachers from using their sick days en masse as a form of protest regarding the current lack of a teachers contract – that the teachers’ union had rejected a last offer from the school committee that reduced the number of sick days to 18 and would have implemented a “sick bank” for long-term coverage, encompassing things like maternity and chronic illness.

Netcoh said that this offer was disingenuous and possibly a violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), because it would require a board, consisting partially of fellow teachers, to approve or deny the sick bank requests from their colleagues.

Comparatively, both Cranston and Coventry include a high number of sick days, which double as short-term and long-term disability coverage for their teachers. Coventry has 80 days allotted and Cranston has 75, with another category of sick days specifically for use in long-term illness situations.

“We're really not an outlier when you break everything down into the components,” Netcoh said.

It remains to be seen which way the independent arbitrator Michael Ryan will lean when his findings come out sometime this month in regards to sick leave policy. A combined total of 867 Warwick teachers took a combined 12,292 sick days last school year. Of those teachers, 32 were out 70 or more days (3 percent).

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Justanidiot

So, I have to take unpaid leave days off and jeopardize my job because of the teachers.

Gotcha.

Tuesday, October 17
Thecaptain

Do the math,

This averages out to 13.86 sick days per 1/2 year per teacher. That is freakin obnoxious. If you are sick that often you need to be in a leper colony. You want TDI? Then pay into it like the rest of the working class people. Or try owning your own business where you get ZERO sick days, ZERO vacation days, and you are actually responsible to produce a good product to keep the doors open. These teachers wouldnt last 1 week in the real world. Bunch of cry baby leper victims.

Tuesday, October 17
RIvoter

This should be treated the same way an employer provided short-term disability is treated. Any absence over 2 days requires a doctors note. The doctor just provides a date you can return to work and no details on the condition.

Any absences to care for a family member should fall under the FMLA rules. There does need to be some accountability for these absences.

Tuesday, October 17
richardcorrente

867 Warwick teachers took a total of 12,292 sick days.

12,292 sick days divided by 867 teachers = 14.18 sick days taken per teacher over the last school year. Is that too much? I don't think so.

BUT...the mathematical formula to get there needs to be greatly simplified to make the general public sign on to it, in my opinion. Something like an exact number of sick days allocated per calendar year with a "use-it-or-lose-it" clause in it. That would be so clear to the public that they couldn't misinterpret it and public opinion would improve. The formula explained in article XI is so complex that it begs to be misunderstood, debated, distrusted, and challenged.

Keep It Simple...Just my opinion.

Happy Autumn everyone.

Rick Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor

Tuesday, October 17
Thecaptain

My bad, I used 897 for the number of teachers. I stand corrected. Makes it even worse.

Tuesday, October 17
Thecaptain

Rick, who in the real world is calls out sick twice per month other than teachers and firefighters? NO ONE. Its unheard of. Anyone that did that would be fired immediately. There needs to be a provision that every sick day MUST be followed by a doctors note or you get suspended. That will solve the sick out gouging.

Tuesday, October 17
DanElliott

Hey Rick,

Are you proposing 14 sick days per year and participation in TDI? I can get behind that. The problem is the teachers union would never agree to it, and they won't endorse you.

The more we try to learn about the intricacies of the contract, the more misinformation and personal attacks come flying in from union members. Says here "70 of the 90 days provide payment to teachers at a guaranteed, full-time rate." For weeks, I've been hearing talk on social media from members and their associates that the 90 days are unpaid. Not until the 71st sick day (imagine this - 71 days out) does a member have to "pay" for a sick day, and the cost is $18 each. We've been led to believe up to this point that they forfeit their pay for the day. So Warwick taxpayers paid out 12,292 days where no employee worked. That's over $5.25 Million a year, for nothing. Is it any wonder the schools are gobbling up 52.7% of the Budget, and they're failing by every measure of performance?

I'm tired of the rolling strikes, and so are the Warwick people. This sick time policy dates back to the 1970's, which was also when we last constructed a modern school. Since then, the district has been on a long slow decline. The fact we've allowed this benefit to fester over four decades into a culture of chronic absenteeism is shameful, and the academic performance of our schools under "work to rule" is downright embarrassing. Do any of these 90-day-patriots ever talk about reorganizing the schools, building new, perhaps ice prevailing wage temporarily for school construction projects, a plan to improve academic performance, or keeping traditional public schools competitive in the era of charters? No. All I keep hearing is: "Educate yourself. 3 long years in dreadful conditions! They deserve a contract!" I attended Warwick Public Schools my entire childhood. I consider myself to be well educated, and I certainly believe we can do better than this.

We can fix our public schools, but not by capitulating to unreasonable demands. This rolling strike has angered many parents and community members, and has essentially been a case of the union running a negative PR campaign against itself. It's time to fight back, for the Warwick schoolchildren, so that one day they will get the quality education they deserve.

Dan Elliott

Tuesday, October 17
Bg9385

The WSC budgets for 5 sick days per teacher. Anything over that, they get charged per day. The budget allocates $2 million in an account that is used to cover any overages in sick days, per the September school committee meeting. It's an account that isn't necessary, but the committee budgets for it regardless. As for TDI, the WSC won't pay into it. The proposed "sick bank" would allow for sharing sick days, but at a percentage of the daily rate (80% was the last known figure). This article is pretty par for the course with articles published by this journalist. It tells part of the story, but not the entire story. I mean, he went out of his way to find a relative of a deceased teacher to play up the WSC's point. Pretty comical. As for wage freezes - are we gonna start freezing DOT workers if construction deadlines aren't met? Or maybe we should freeze administrative raises because schools are underperforming?

Tuesday, October 17
PaulHuff

The average teacher is out 14 days out of the 180? That’s excessive if you ask me.

And if teachers are so concerned about long term illness coverage they should purchase an Aaflak type policy like people across the country who don’t have TDI (socialist RI is one of the few states that offer it) do.

And I know someone who works for the state, that person has a “sick time Bank” through their union. If the State can handle it why is it so difficult for the WTU to handle?

Wednesday, October 18
DanElliott

Assuming these numbers, on average Warwick needs 68 substitute teachers every day of the year because of teacher sick days. We're spending a lot of extra money on sick time in Warwick when we should be building new schools.

Wednesday, October 18
ThatGuyInRI

Warwick teachers get 90 sick days.

Cranston teachers get 90 sick days.

Lincoln teachers get 20 sick days.

Providence teachers get 15 sick days.

Narragansett teachers get 15 sick days.

CF teachers get 13 sick days.

Pawtucket teachers get 13 sick days.

North Providence teachers get 12 sick days.

Cumberland teachers get 9 sick days.

All have varying numbers of how many days can be accumulated, and some have sick banks, some may have TDI, someone else can do that research. But this is a start of comparing Warwick to other systems.

Wednesday, October 18
chrismark

Rick and Dan,

Your comments are just as misleading and misinformed as all other sources. If I may break this down for you both STATISTICALLY:

First Rick, you cannot simply take the number of total absent days and divide it by the number of teachers, it simply doesn't represent the data properly. The average needs to be weighted appropriately. In the article it states that 3%of these teachers has some type of long term illness that kept them out of school for 70+ days. How many days is that?!?!Without knowing the exact number of days these teachers were out, and assuming that they all were out 75% of the school year for anything from Cancer to a broken ankle (Think Gordon Hayward) you could easily overestimate the total number of the true population of teachers by more than 5,700 days! lets just assume for a minute that each of these teachers were out 90 days (half a year and I think fair to assume given the information. That now leaves you with 2,880 less sick days to average into the pool, and 32 less teachers to factor into the average (they're the outliers anyway. In statistics, we look at them to see if there is anything there but a weighted average would factor them out of the nominal curve). Now were at 835/9412 or 11.27 sick days, just shy of 2 weeks. Still a bit high? How about factoring in the above average class room sizes where you are exposed to anywhere between 25-32 disease spreading children for 6-8 hours per day (here is some research back facts on this being a hazard and concern for us all:

http://www.futurity.org/why-kids-top-the-list-for-spreading-germs/

http://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.0050074

This is all not to mention that no parent is keeping their kid home when their sick anymore. And I haven't factored in the continued air quality and learning conditions of our schools.

So I now ask you, is 11 days away from school too much? I think not.

Second point Dan- When you make mention that teachers are paid 70 days full salary for their sick time, you fail to mention that it is merely a long term loan. What you didn't say was that at the end of the year (see above article) teachers with elongated sick time pay back a strong percentage of their wages earned during that time. That is not getting paid full wages. But, its a truly common practice in the industry. Here's a fun exercise... Go to google and enter this:

sick leave bank guidelines

In addition to a number of state school districts, there is a sick bank for CT state workers (www.ct.gov/opm/lib/opm/OLR/Forms/P4GUIDELINES.doc), The employees for the state of Tennessee (https://www.tn.gov/assets/entities/hr/.../Employee_Sick_Leave_Bank_Guidelines.pdf) and even one for our RI state workers (http://www.hr.ri.gov/documents/Handbook/leave/1300_Sick%20Leave%20Banks_9-22-2010.pdf) which is a supplemental 12 days BEYOND their short term and long term disability insurances.

I close in asking you all to be more diligent in your research and investigation into such matters as they will prove that there is actual concern for these teachers and what they are trying to accomplish. Moreover, it saddens me to see such emotional responses without fact from people who have obvious political aspirations and care too little to fully educate themselves before speaking.

Wednesday, October 18
DanElliott

chrismark wrote:

"Dan- When you make mention that teachers are paid 70 days full salary for their sick time, you fail to mention that it is merely a long term loan. What you didn't say was that at the end of the year (see above article) teachers with elongated sick time pay back a strong percentage of their wages earned during that time. That is not getting paid full wages."

The article said, and I noted in my comment, that the charge is $18 per sick day. Some years its only a few dollars per day. Teachers earn somewhere around $425 a day (according to sources) and are paid for 180 days no matter what happens. As far as statistics: if you think 18 is a strong percentage of 425, I can't help you there.

I care deeply about the future of our city. I was talking to some people (who I consider well-educated) around Labor Day who told me "that can't be right - 90 days. You better double check that, Dan." So I'm used to being dismissed and told to do more research when what I stated originally was in fact correct. For months I've been asking the questions, talking to people from all sides, doing my research. I've talked to City Council members, School Committee members, the mayor, teachers, and parents. I recently spoke to Michael Pella-Sabourin, the man who created the "I Support Warwick Teachers" sign campaign. We hung out for almost 3 hours talking about all kinds of issues, and it turns out we shared many of the same concerns about the schools and the city. So I'm going about my efforts to bring change to our community the same way I campaigned last fall - one on one talks with community members. Clearly we need more regular people who care about the whole community (not just the RI labor union/Democratic party machine) to bring a voice to government. I am very passionate about the city and our schools, and I'm sorry if my emotions offended you. If you think government in Rhode Island is working just fine for the people, then my opponent would love to get your vote next fall.

Dan Elliott

2016 Independent candidate

State Representative - House District 20

Friday, October 20
richardcorrente

Dear Dan Elliott,

First, it's good to hear from you. Your comments are always intelligent and well thought out. Please note that I have stayed away from the content of the teachers contract. I have focused solely on their right to have one. One report bragged that " the two sides met 25 times."

Even if that is true, and I don't think it is, that means that over the span of 800+ days they only met 25 times! They should have met that many times IN THE FIRST MONTH!!

Give me a call. Haven't sat with you in while.

Happy Autumn Dan

Happy Autumn everyone.

Rick Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor

Monday, October 23
richardcorrente

Dear Chrismark,

As you know, if one area of the teachers contract is overstated and another is understated, then they offset one another. I try to stay out of the "is this fair?" conversation. My total focus was one the teachers having a signed contract which is still, LONG OVERDUE. 800+ days is way too long to wait, regardless of the content. And "meeting 25 times" in the span of 800 days is a sin. As I mentioned to Dan Elliott, they should have met that many times in THE FIRST MONTH! How many days off the teachers receive is relative to the rest of the contract. Let's wait and see.

Happy Autumn Chrismark.

Happy Autumn everyone.

Rick Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor

Monday, October 23