Automated call-in eases a burden Sick teachers' absences, their duration recorded

Doubting bosses bypassed

Computer scans list of 900 in search for substitutes

November 26, 1998|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

County schoolteachers with aches, pains and runny noses can now get out of confronting their doubting bosses with a new automated call-in-sick system that can record their absence and find a substitute teacher.

The system replaces the human voice of sometimes grumpy and intimidating assistant principals with a recording that does not pass judgment on anyone's health and asks only that teachers punch in some numbers.

"The system eliminates some of the subtle pressure on teachers when assistant principals ask, 'Is your child really that sick?' " said Suzy Jablinske, head of the teachers' union.

It works like this: Teachers dial the system number, enter their personal identification number and then select a reason for missing work:

Sick child? Press 2.

Personal illness? Press 1.

Death in family? Press 6.

Death in other? Press 7.

And so on. There are 15 choices. The teacher punches in the date or dates of the absence and hangs up. The computer then searches through a bank of 900 substitute teachers and starts making calls to see who can fill in, said David Lombardo, the school system's director of human resources.

"The biggest advantage to this system is that it frees up the assistant principals from having to find a substitute teacher," he said. "And that is really a hard task that can take hours of phone calls on evenings or weekends."

The Arundel system, similar to ones in use in Howard and Montgomery counties, began operation Nov. 18. On an average day, 450 of 4,500 teachers call in sick, Lombardo said.

"This is working out well," said Stanley Stowas, the project manager who is setting up the system. "Teachers can call in 24 hours a day. It gives them the flexibility to call in the middle of the night if they have an emergency."

But, Jablinske says, the system has not found a way to solve the shortage of substitute teachers.

"Nine hundred substitutes?" she said. "Tell that to the teachers. Finding substitutes is a serious problem. Not just here, but in many other school districts."

Jablinske said substitutes are hard to come by when the economy is good and people can go to other jobs that pay better.

"They say they have 900 names on that list, but sometimes teachers want to teach only at certain schools or on certain days," she said. "When substitutes can't be found, teachers have been asked to cover classes during their planning periods."

Pub Date: 11/26/98

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