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NC teachers applaud bill to waive PTO fee

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    BUNCOMBE COUNTY, North Carolina (WLOS) — New legislation could remove the fee North Carolina teachers have to pay if they want to take a personal day on days when class is in session.

House Bill 362 proposes waiving the $50 fee teachers have to contribute towards hiring a substitute teacher when they want to take a personal day, provided they give a reason. Under this bill, if a reason is not provided, the teacher would have to pay the full cost of hiring a substitute, which is more than $50.

North Carolina is one of just a few states that asks its teachers to pay for personal leave when students are in class. Teachers typically only get two personal days per school year.

Buncombe County Rep. John Ager is a cosponsor of HB 362, calling the issue an “egregious problem.”

“To me, it’s an embarrassment that if they have a personal leave day, doctor’s appointment or a sick child, we are asking the teachers to pay for a substitute,” Rep. Ager said.

The personal day fee has long been criticized by North Carolina teachers. Rep. Ager said this bill has bipartisan support, and he believes it has a good chance of passing this year.

“We’ve got to build a system that keeps teachers in the classroom and this is just one of the little problems that makes that a lot harder,” he said.

A former Asheville educator himself, Ager said making this change could help make teachers feel more valued.

“Teachers always talk about respect,” he said. “They’re not feeling much respect from the North Carolina General Assembly over the last number of years.”

Daniel Withrow, the president of the Asheville City Association of Educators (ACAE) and teacher at Isaac Dickson Elementary, said he’s certainly had to pay the $50 fee himself over the years.

“I think it makes a lot of sense not to have people penalized for taking a day off that they have earned as part of their compensation package,” Withrow said. “To the best of my knowledge, that is not common in other fields, that you have to pay for other workers on the day that you’re not there.”

However, he said he’s confused about some of the language in the bill.

Under current state law, teachers are not required to give a reason for taking a personal day, as long as they notify the school at least five days in advance. Any requests made at least five days in advance are also automatically approved and they have to pay the $50 if a substitute will need to be hired in their absence.

HB 362 still says those requests will be automatically approved, but teachers must give a reason if they want the fee waived. If no reason is provided, they have to pay the full cost of hiring a sub if one is needed in their absence under the bill. At Asheville City Schools, the cost of hiring a certified sub is $134.56 per day, and for non-certified subs is $107.65 per day.

“Given that personal days are designed for teachers to take for personal reasons, it seems like an unnecessary invasion of the teacher’s privacy,” Withrow said.

Fellow Asheville City Schools teacher and VP of ACAE Susanna Cerrato echoed this sentiment, questioning why the bill requires teachers to provide a reason if they want the fee waived.

“I’m a 40-year old-woman. I don’t need to tell you what I’m using my personal day for. It’s none of your business,” Cerrato said. “The first thought that came into my mind is that it’s the perpetuation of the mistrust.”

Cerrato said she certainly applauds the bill’s core intentions. She said many of her fellow teachers have resorted to using sick days for personal matters to avoid paying the $50 fee.

“My general belief is that educators receive already so little compensation for how hard they work that to be expected to continue to contribute towards our own self-care seems egregious,” Cerrato said.

But she and Withrow are concerned about the bill requiring teachers to provide a reason for taking personal days they are entitled to in their employment contracts, especially when they are not currently required to provide any reason.

Rep. John Ager said he, too, was confused by this language in the bill. News 13 reached out to Rep. Jeff Elmore, the bill’s main sponsor, multiple times with these concerns, but we are still waiting to hear back.

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