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The Simcoe County District School Board looks to pass its budget next week

Andrew Philips

By Andrew Philips, Special to Postmedia Network

Jodi Lloyd

Jodi Lloyd

A line item in the public school board's impending budget concerns Jodi Lloyd.

The Orillia-Ramara trustee said it doesn't seem quite right that the Simcoe County District School Board must make provisions in its next operating budget to cover $17.6 million for future employee absenteeism.

"One of the significant pressures we're facing is employee absenteeism," Lloyd said. "It's a staggering amount of money."

Salaries and benefits account for the lion's share of the board's $572.2-million operating budget passed Wednesday evening by its business and facilities standing committee.

While the budget is expected to be formally passed by trustees at their meeting next week, Lloyd does expect there to be some additional discussion regarding the absenteeism issue.

"Yes, it will get passed, (but) that's huge money," she said.

One reason for the increased financing needed to cover absenteeism might be related to changes a few years ago relating to how many sick days teachers could carry over to the next year.

"Sure, it's a contributing factor," Lloyd said, adding it really comes down to how the sick days are used since sick-day usage generally seems to be higher with a public institution like the school board compared to a private-sector employer.

"It's how you perceive your sick days."

But Brian Jeffs, the board's superintendent of business services, said there's one thing that's not always considered when it comes to discussing sick days for teachers, educational assistants and the like.

"The challenge in the educational sector is when a teacher's off sick, they have to be replaced," Jeffs said, noting salaries and benefits represent 86% ($491.1 million) of the board's operating budget with the capital budget coming in at $55 million.

"In fairness and to provide some balance, it's not a situation that's unique to this board, it's not unique to Simcoe County."

Jeffs said the $17.6-million figure is predicted by looking at past absentee rates and forecasting how that trend would affect the board in the coming year.

"Over the past four years or so, we've seen significant growth in the amount of sick leave," he said, noting one could consider whether there's a link between today's absentee rates and the elimination of a gratuity allowing teachers to receive a sum upon retirement if they had a large stash of banked sick days.

"Is there a correlation? It's just a pressure for us," he said, noting the board has started to look at what days employees are calling in sick to determine whether a pattern of absenteeism exists on say, Mondays, Fridays or just before or after statutory holidays and breaks.

"No one's begrudging people who are sick and need to be away."

Lloyd said absenteeism is one of three major pressures facing the board; the other two being transportation and special education.

On the positive side, Lloyd said the board has made some good capital planning decisions over the past few years, including opting to close schools and build newer state-of-the-art models in both Orillia and Midland.

She added: "Moving forward we have to get some of these other things under control."

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