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Accumulating Benefits

Decades of Unused Vacation and Sick Days Renders Board Ill

Dave Arnold

My school board president and I recently discussed my 26 years of employment with the district. Specifically, he was impressed with the number of sick days I have accumulated and what it would cost the district to pay me off.

He kiddingly said the school would be better off to arrange an accident to terminate my contract, so to speak. "Consider youself wanted, dead or alive," he said.

Yes, he may have been joking, but the message was clear that the school board was translating the longevity of my employment into what it costs them. When I started working as a custodian in 1982, I didn't have a union representative, contract, or any say in my employment arrangement.

Good Deal

After my school district in Brownstown, Illinois got organized and negotiated a contract, we bargained for accumulative sick days. It was one of the best deals we ever made. After years of contracts and negotiations, we now have a maximum of 240 accumulated sick days. Our sick days and vacation leave are structured as follows:

  • A 12-month employee receives 14 sick days per year.
  • A 10-month employee receives 12 sick days per year.
  • Unused sick days accumulate with a maximum of 240.
  • At the end of the fiscal year, any employee having reached their maximum of accumulated sick days will be paid $30 for each unused sick day over the allowable maximum (240).
  • If an employee should terminate their employment, they will be paid a rate of $30 per day for each unused sick day they have accumulated.
  • Upon self-termination of employment, the employee will be paid for each unused vacation day at the given hourly rate of pay.
  • After an employee has served one year they are to receive one week's paid vacation; after three years they will receive two weeks; after 10 years, three weeks; and after 15 years, a day's vacation for every year of service up to a maximum of 20 years.
  • The employee shall also receive a bonus of $100 per year for each year of employment.


The total of my accumulated benefits were enough to cause board members to want me to meet my maker as soon as possible. But even if I checked out today, our contract states: "In the advent of an employee's death, unused sick days, vacation pay, bonuses, and any salary due to the employee will be paid to the surviving beneficiary."

There will be a payout whatever happens. The school board is partly relieved, however, that I have reached the maximum on the salary scale. Then again, anyone hired to replace me would start out at a salary less than half what I receive today. The school board will save quite a bit of cash once I'm gone.

Although I'm still not watching over my shoulder for bounty hunters, Association members and I are trying to hang on to what benefits we have. During each contract negotiation, attempts are made to remove some benefits, especially those in the "accumulative" category. We have allowed the board to take some under certain circumstances.

Earned a Year Off With Pay

We were once paid an hourly rate of pay for each unused sick day upon self-termination of our employment. But when one veteran co-worker retired, the board was caught off-guard and had to give the worker a year off with pay due to their accumulated sick days and vacation pay.

After that experience, the school board -- determined for that not to happen again -- bargained to reduce the sick day payout to $30 per day.

If you have years of employment under your belt with accumulated benefits, look out. Your school board might put your name on a wanted poster.

(Dave Arnold, a member of the Illinois Education Association, is a custodian at Brownstown Elementary School in Southern Illinois. He can be contacted at

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NEA or its affiliates.

Dave's View has been discontinued following the retirement of its author, Dave Arnold. Even though new columns will not be posted, we encourage you to review past columns.