Let’s say you’ve been a teacher in Payson for 20 years and you’ve never taken a single sick day.
Should you get a $10,000 to $15,500 bonus when you retire — or get laid off?
No way, say key members of the Payson School Board.
At least, that seems like the gist of a debate about overhauling the district’s policy on paying longtime workers for unused sick days when they leave the district.
Currently, employees get 7-9 sick days annually — that is in addition to vacation time for classified staff and other days off like Spring and Christmas breaks. If they don’t use their full allotment, the time carries forward for sick days. Vacation days for non-exempt staff are capped at 20 days, but for exempt staff it is 30 days. After 10 years with the district, teachers can cash out their unused sick days at the going daily rate for a substitute teacher.
The policy was based on the assumption that the district should reward longtime employees who have great attendance records — especially since the district has to bring in substitutes any time a teacher misses a day.
However, several board members asked the administration to tally up how much money the district pays out under the terms of the policy. Several members said they favored capping the number of unused sick days an employee could cash in.
Last year, 13 district teachers and qualified administrators who retired or were laid off collected an average payout of $10,636, although nine additional certified employees who left did not qualify. The average payout for just the teachers last year was just under $8,000. That reflected the seniority of the departing teachers, since at present the average payout should teachers leave stands at about $3,000.
In all, 60 of the district’s 147 teachers have at least 10 years seniority and so would be eligible for a payout if they’re among the teachers laid off this year, according to district figures.
Board member Rory Huff triggered the discussion by asking for a board meeting on whether the district should imitate the Town of Payson, which gives employees a certain number of days off each year, which includes both vacation days and sick days.
“I was hoping it was a cost savings measure, but it’s not,” said Huff of the town’s system.
Board member Barbara Shepherd expressed doubts about any change in policy. “If you take it away, then they start calling in sick and you have to pay the same amount to a substitute.”
“But I think there needs to be a cap,” said Huff.
The board first noticed the issue last year when the district laid off a number of long-time employees, some of whom had rarely used sick days. Huff noted that some employees get a payout covering 250 days of pay. That would amount to 28 years of service without taking a single sick day.
“That’s a lot of money,” said Huff. “Sick time is not a right, it’s a privilege.”
The district laid off a number of senior employees last year, under the terms of a recently enacted state law that barred districts from considering either tenure or seniority in layoff decisions. Superintendent Casey O’Brien said the Legislature in essence essentially overrode all local district contracts, allowing districts to apply any criteria they wanted to layoffs — and to easily change contract provisions like sick time — even retroactively.
Shepherd objected to the idea of simply revoking promised pay for unused sick days. “These are people who have been here for years. That’s a reward for loyal service.”
But board member Matt Van Camp said “it’s not a bank. I never get sick — and every year I get money from the city,” added Van Camp, who is a Payson Police officer. “We pay them for work, we don’t pay them to be sick.”
“So does the board want to look at capping the payoff when they’re going to leave?” asked O’Brien.
Huff commented, “you’d better watch out — if you cap it at 500 hours they’re going to be sick a lot in those last three months.”
O’Brien noted that he could come back to the board with more figures on the payouts and a report on what other districts do, which would include a wide range of approaches.
Board member Kim Pound favored limits on the payouts. “These are tough times. I don’t think we’re going to be the only board facing this problem.”