Newark schools are fighting truancy on the other side of the desk.
Almost half of Newark public school teachers took two weeks of sick leave and a quarter took three or more weeks in the last academic year, theWall Street Journal reports.
The report comes as Newark teachers' contracts are set to expire on June 30 and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is in negotiations with the public schools and teachers' unions to establish a new contract. Because the state has direct control over Newark's public schools, Christie has a veto vote over the contract.
Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak called Newark's absentee numbers "completely unacceptable" in an interview with the Journal. "That kind of history certainly doesn't work in favor of the union and its negotiating position unless that problem can be fixed."
Newark Teachers' Union president Joseph Del Grosso says the absenteeism this year was "abnormal."
"People tended, I think, to use sick time this year because there was a threat that they might have to retire," Del Grosso told NBCNewYork, referring to planned budget cuts to New Jersey schools which were recently averted.
Because compensation for unused sick days is capped at $15,000, there was an "abnormal use of sick time" as people, expecting to retire at the end of the year, used up their accrued sick days.
New Jersey teachers also don't pay into New Jersey disability coverage, said Del Grosso, "so teachers hoard their sick days in case they get ill...at the end, they have a lot of sick days."
However, Governor Christie recently reached an agreement with New Jersey teachers to freeze salaries in order to avoid budget cuts and ensuing forced retirements.
"Once the governor decided he wasn't going to pursue that option I've seen things turn around a little," Del Grosso said with regard to teacher attendance.
With 40,000 students, Newark is one of the largest public school systems in the Northeast. Its teachers get 15 sick days and three personal days per year, and 28 days after 25 years of service. New York City teachers, in comparison, get 10 sick days a year.
The new contract will be negotiated by August, and although Del Grosso says that he may bring up the issue of New Jersey teachers' not being covered by New Jersey disability, he doesn't expect teacher absenteeism to be a key issue in the discussions.
The state has had management of Newark Public School s since 1995 because they are among the lowest-performing in the state and it was hoped that the move would improve the district's test scores and graduation rate.
Despite three state-appointed superintendents over the past fifteen years, student performance has not significantly improved.