PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – With Providence school officials warning teachers that they could face discipline for excessive absences, Mayor Jorge Elorza said Monday he wants “instill a culture of accountability’ in city schools to ensure educators will regularly show up for work.

Elorza, a Democrat who spent much of 2018 in a contract dispute with the city’s teachers, called chronic absenteeism among teachers – the term used to describe those who miss at least 18 days during the school year – a “disturbing trend that needs to improve.”

“There is clear evidence that teacher absences have a detrimental impact on our students’ achievement,” Elorza said. “To provide every child with the high-quality education they deserve, we will work to instill a culture of accountability within our schools and ensure that our teachers are in class and ready to teach.”

In a presentation that will be delivered to the Providence School Board this week, the school district identified eight city schools that had more than 20% of teachers considered chronically absent during the 2017-18 school year, including Leviton Dual Language (30.1%); Alfred Lima Elementary (27.4%); Reservoir Avenue Elementary (24.6%); West Broadway Middle (22.4%); Roger Williams Middle School (22.1%); George J. West Elementary School (21.8%); Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary (21%); and Nathan Bishop Middle School (20.3%).

The presentation also suggests that teachers were more likely to be absent on Mondays and Fridays last school year.

Superintendent Christopher Maher said last week the district has been identifying teachers it considers excessively absent. He said teachers believed to be regularly missing for reasons that aren’t related to an ongoing medical condition could be subject to “progressive discipline,” which begins with counseling and follows with reprimands, suspension and termination.

Despite the concerns of the mayor and superintendent, teacher absenteeism was not a significant talking point during tense contract negotiations between the city and the Providence Teachers Union last year. The City Council voted 14-1 earlier this month to approve a new contract that included modest raises and few changes to other provisions.

Under the terms of the deal, teachers with at least three years on the job are given 15 full-pay sick days. Teachers with less than three years of experience receive eight sick days per year. Teachers can carry over unused sick days from year to year. The contract requires teachers to submit a doctor’s note if they are absent four consecutive days.

Continue the discussion on Facebook

Dan McGowan (dmcgowan@wpri.com) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Twitter: @danmcgowan