Why do Toronto public school teachers take the most sick days? TDSB digs into pervasive absenteeism

Public school teachers in Toronto took four more sick days than the provincial average in the 2022-23 school year — a statistic that the board admits affects student well-being, contributes to staff burnout, and burns through tens of millions of dollars per year.

TDSB trustees will go over a report Tuesday that outlines the harms of pervasive absenteeism after a study found teachers in Toronto took an average of nearly 20 sick days per year in 2022-23, compared to the provincial average of around 16.

Those extra four days have staggering effects, the report says.

“Absences have a significant effect on the Toronto District School Board’s (TDSB) ability to ensure a productive learning and work environment, and can ultimately impact student achievement,” the report reads.

Sick days are also extremely costly financially.

“TDSB total replacement costs per day represent approximately $6.7 million, amounting
to approximately $106 million annually,” the report outlines. “TDSB replacement costs are approximately $25 million over the provincial average which, if improved, could be reinvested into additional resources.”

“Absenteeism costs over the past two years have represented 9.46 per cent and 8.71 per cent of TDSB’s total payroll, respectively, in each of the past two years,” the report says.

Finding staff to fill in for teachers who call in sick remains problematic, and often forces existing staff to take on more work, ultimately leading to burn out and job dissatisfaction.

Last school year the average fill rate at the TDSB was 75 per cent in elementary school and 79 per cent in high school.

“Existing absenteeism rates create an over-reliance and subsequent pressure on alternate resources, including OTs, Emergency Resource Personnel (ERP), school administrators, department leaders, peers and support staff.”

The report outlines how the board hopes to tackle the problem.

“A number of steps have been taken to support existing pressures and increase classroom supports. Additionally, TDSB … has developed a comprehensive action plan aimed at enhancing workforce engagement and attendance to ensure continuity in classrooms and schools, with a focus on employee and student well-being and positive academic outcomes.”

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