Media Watch: Sickening outrage in Chicago Sun-Times editorial regarding policy it says "make sense"

The Chicago Sun-Times editorial board was so outraged about the CTU contract's provision regarding teachers banking unused sick days that it called teachers "pathetic."

Other rhetorical delights — by editorial page editor Tom McNamee and members of the Sun-Times editorial board Thomas Frisbie, Lorraine Forte, Marlen Garcia and Mary Mitchell — include the following:

• Teachers calling in sick who aren't are doing an "inexcusably disruptive thing."

• Before 2012, teachers were able to cash in sick days for "hard money."

• Since 2012 there has been an "excessive" use of sick days

• [There was a wrong] "assumption was that vast majority of teachers, being committed professionals" wouldn't use sick days.

Too bad we can't hear the editorial board members read aloud the words "committed professionals." Sneer much?

Buried at the end of the piece, the Sun-Times editorial board acknowledges that banking sick days is a common policy in teacher contracts. The editorial states that the policy "aligns more closely with that for downstate and suburban teachers, who are allowed to accumulate up to two years of unpaid sick leave. The teachers can add those sick days to their years of service, boosting their pensions."

And before concluding the piece by calling teachers pathetic, the editorial proclaims that the contract provision "makes sense."

Chicago teachers’ abuse of sick days should leave us all feeling ill

By CST Editorial Board Nov 5, 2019, 6:47pm CST

Lots of Chicago teachers call in sick when they are not sick.

Just because they can.

Yes, we’re talking about those very same members of the Chicago Teachers Union who just staged a two-week strike to fight — so they told us time and again — for Chicago’s kids.

As reported by Matthew Hendrickson of the Sun-Times (here), that sad fact lies behind a little noticed provision in the teachers’ new tentative contract. The teachers will be allowed to accumulate as many as 244 sick days, which they can put toward an earlier retirement with a full pension. Some teachers will be able to retire about a year and half early.

Why would Mayor Lori Lightfoot, the Chicago Public Schools and CTU agree to this change in the contract?

To give teachers who are not sick a greater incentive not to call in sick, which is among the more inexcusably disruptive things that can happen to a classroom.

CPS found that teachers have been calling in sick about 150% more often since 2012, which is when a provision was eliminated that allowed teachers to save up and cash in — for hard money — up to 325 unused sick days when they retire.

No longer allowed to accumulate and cash in so many unused sick days, teachers have been treating them like personal days under a different name.

The teachers’ excessive use of sick days has created a problem for Chicago’s public schools at a time when it’s increasingly difficult to line up substitute teachers, given competition from the gig economy. And even the best substitute teachers can’t make up for the loss of continuity in learning.

Chicago’s schoolchildren have paid the price.

It’s unfortunate that things ever got to this point. It’s regrettable that teachers apparently need a little more incentive to call in sick only when they are genuinely under the weather.

That was the thinking during contract negotiations in 2012 when, to save the school district tens of millions of dollars, the 325 unused sick days a teacher could cash out at retirement was eliminated. The assumption then was that the vast majority of teachers, being committed professionals, still would call in sick only when they truly were ailing.

And maybe they did, right? Maybe it’s just a stunning coincidence that teachers instantly began to catch so many more colds and fevers and had to call in sick 150% more often.

In any event, both sides in this year’s contract talks apparently agreed that a use-it-or-lose-it approach to sick days is not in the best interest of the kids.

The financial impact of this change in the teachers’ contract is hard to estimate. There will be some increase in pension liability costs for CPS, as teachers retire slightly earlier than they might have.

CPS also will realize a savings as highly paid longtime teachers retire a little earlier and are replaced by more modestly paid new hires.

CPS’ new system for banking sick days aligns more closely with that for downstate and suburban teachers, who are allowed to accumulate up to two years of unpaid sick leave. The teachers can add those sick days to their years of service, boosting their pensions.

Chicago’s new rule — teachers can bank up to 244 unused sick days for an earlier retirement — makes good sense, but the need for such a rule is pathetic.


November 12, 2019 at 10:05 PM

By: Jo-Anne Cairo

Teachers sick days

Yes Sharon, I was irritated when I read this editorial, but there is a lot of information that was not inferred, like after the 2012 strike, and the collecting of sick days from year to year was dismissed in that contract. That you were only allowed 40 days total and if you did't use your sick days you would loose them. so instead of loosing them teachers used them. Because not all teachers collect them for the cash, they collected them because they were dedicated teachers who were at school to teach their students. At the HOD meeting it was mentioned that people are tweeting about what was going on at the meeting meeting. Yes communications that might have been sent to the Sun Times were not accurate.

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