Taking roll of local teachers, who is present?

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - The spokesperson for the Horry County School District is talking about our WMBF News investigation into discovering if the school district's teachers are missing too many classes.

WMBF News Anchor Chandi Lowry uncovered that Horry County has one of the lowest attendance rates in our area.

Lowry went to school officials for answers on why this is happening and what's being done to combat the problem.

There's no doubt about it, people have very strong opinions when it comes to teachers not being in classrooms and letting substitutes take over.

Teachers are paid to educate our children, approximately $50,000 a year, in fact, and they are expected to be in the classrooms.

After doing some research, Lowry discovered more and more teachers are missing classes across the country.

The attendance rate in the Horry County School District sits at 94.1 percent.

One of the lower rates in the area compared to other districts in Florence, Marion and Malboro counties.

Horry County School District Spokesperson Teal Britton admits there's a problem.

"We certainly want to see those numbers increase and get back to where we were at a peak at some point. We should be looking at 94 or 96 percent," admits Britton.

School board member Joe DeFeo says most teachers are passionate about their jobs, but there are some bad apples in the bunch.

"I can guarantee people are calling in sick who are not sick; it happens," says DeFeo.

"If they miss classes for the wrong reasons, absolutely it's a waste of taxpayers' money," DeFeo agrees.

"I think the students are being cheated; the principal is being cheated; the superintendent is being cheated; the board is being cheated; and the taxpayers are being cheated," he adds.

Britton says teachers in Horry County have no annual leave. They get 10 sick days and two personal ones.

Britton says in the past an incentive program was used to discourage teachers from calling off, but she says that wasn't the best solution.

So now the district is actively looking for a different program to encourage teachers to not call off work while also keeping a close eye on teachers.

Teal explains, "We are monitoring and tracking if there are patterns with individual people; are there patterns on individual days."

"There have been tentative conversations, but there will be more, I know, just in the discussions to get ready to talk to [WMBF] about this story," says Teal.

Conversations that spark two very strong, very different opinions among school officials and parents.

"I think it does. I think when they miss instructional time in class I think a sub has a hard time making that up," says Denise Thomas, parent.

Lisa Wonder, another parent of school aged children says, "I don't think that's good. I think teachers need to be there. I think the kids need to have continuity in their school work."

"Teachers are paid to do a job. They should be there to do a job," suggests Thomas Strong of Myrtle Beach.

One teacher spoke with WMBF News but did not wish to identify herself. She gets emotional while explaining how tough it was for her to leave her students when her mother was dying.

"That was a life changing event for me and I felt the need to be with her," explains the teacher.

"I can only speak for myself, but it's one of the things that stresses me the most is to think about being away from my [students]."

School officials say tough guidelines are in place.

"Obsessive absenteeism is looked at and scrutinized and if they are sick, they are sick, but we don't take for granted someone calling in three times every month. That's just not going to happen or be tolerated," says DeFeo.

"There will be punishments from a simple write up to a meeting with the principal, to a point where they are given warnings about their job performance and, could it eventually lead to a firing," proposes DeFeo, "Yes."

"If they exceed what their available leave is, then they are not compensated. They don't get paid," ensures Teal.

The lowest attendance rate is North Myrtle Beach Intermediate School.

Lowry spoke with the principal there about what she plans on doing about the situation. She says the school has more certified substitute teachers now.

They are also looking for other ways to improve their rate, while talking with the staff on how important it is for teachers to stay in the classrooms.

To see how Horry County Schools rate, click here.

Copyright 2011 WMBF News. All rights reserved.