March 25, 2021

Bill would waive cost for NC teachers taking personal days

Thousands marched down Fayetteville St. in downtown Raleigh on Wednesday, May 1, 2019 to demand…


Thousands marched down Fayetteville St. in downtown Raleigh on Wednesday, May 1, 2019 to demand more funding from state lawmakers for public education.

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North Carolina educators may no longer have to foot the cost of paying for a substitute teacher to cover their classes when they’re taking personal days.

Legislation filed Tuesday in the state House would waive the “required substitute deduction” for teachers who provide a reason for taking personal leave on a school day. However, House Bill 362 also says teachers who don’t provide a reason would now be responsible for paying the full cost for hiring the substitute, which is more than the current $50 a day deduction.

“We’re just like other people, we have personal situations that come up,” Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, a Wilkes County Republican and public school teacher, said in an interview Wednesday. “We shouldn’t have to take a sick day to take time off. That’s not the intent of sick days.”

Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, left, fist bumps Rep. William Brisson on the first day of a brief session Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020. Rep. Michael Wray is to the right. Ethan Hyman [email protected]

The legislation has bipartisan support. In addition to Elmore, the bill’s other primary sponsors are Reps. John Torbett, a Gaston County Republican; Ashton Clemmons, a Guilford County Democrat; and Rosa Gill, a Wake County Democrat. Clemmons is a former principal, and Gill is a former teacher.

The legislation addresses how North Carolina is one of the few states that requires teachers to help pay for the cost of hiring substitutes.

Teachers don’t have to pay for a sub when they use sick leave or vacation days, called annual leave. But they can’t use annual leave when classes are in session.

On days when students are in, teachers can use personal leave. But $50 per day is deducted from the teacher’s paycheck to help defray the cost for hiring a substitute teacher.

Districts pay $80 a day for a substitute who doesn’t have a teaching license. It rises to $103 a day for those who do have a license.

To avoid the $50 charge, Elmore said some teachers have been dipping into their sick days. He said sick days shouldn’t have to be used for non-health situations, such as attending a funeral or a child’s graduation or going to a closing of a house.

Teachers for years have complained about the substitute deduction, including calling for it to be eliminated during the mass protests held in Raleigh in 2018 and 2019. Some educators wound up footing the $50 per day deduction to attend the protests when their districts opted to still hold classes those days.

Reason for leave not required

Under state law, it’s up to the principal to approve personal leave time. Approval of requests made within five days is discretionary.

But state law says the leave has to be automatically approved if the request is made at least five days in advance and a substitute teacher can be found.

The new legislation still allows those automatically approved requests. It also says teachers can’t be required to give a reason. But a reason will be needed if teachers don’t want to lose any pay.

Elmore said that some teachers may not want to tell their principal why they want leave, such as to go on a vacation.

“This helps people who have legitimate reasons,” Elmore said. “The person who probably shouldn’t be taking their personal day so they don’t want to list a reason, they still can get it automatically. But you just have to figure it into the cost of whatever you plan to do.”

Gov. Roy Cooper eliminated the requirement that teachers pay for their own substitutes in the budget proposal he released Wednesday.

Treat teachers as ‘professionals’

Several teachers have come out in support of the new legislation.

“Yay!” Colleen Tavolacci, a Wake County middle school teacher, tweeted Tuesday. “We get treated like professionals and not financially punished for being humans. Thx NC!”

The legislation resonated for teachers who’ve had to use personal days when dealing with newborn children. Kim Mackey, a Wake County high school teacher, tweeted Tuesday that she’s paid several hundreds of dollars over the years to use personal days while on maternity leave.

But some educators question having to give a reason for their personal day.

“So, we have to provide a reason why, why???” Danielle Lewis, a Wake County middle school teacher, tweeted Tuesday. “I earned the time — it’s nobody’s business what I do with it.”

Non-educators and teachers from other states have expressed surprise that North Carolina has been requiring teachers to pay for subs.

“Wait?!! What?!!” Heather Fry, a Pennsylvania public school teacher, tweeted Tuesday. “This is an actual thing?!! As a teacher in PA I find this ridiculous!”

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.