The Vancouver School Board has laid out a plan to crack-down on teacher absences, a problem that’s costing the district $20 million per year for replacement staff.

The board issued a preliminary budget document Tuesday revealing it has discovered a higher-than-average rate of absenteeism and sick leave usage in the city.

It recommends the creation of a “wellness and attendance support program” that could save an estimated $800,000 annually by keeping closer track of teachers’ attendance patterns and dealing with situations as they arise.

“For example, asking for people to provide a doctor’s certificate,” said school board vide-chair Mike Lombardi. “I think these are reasonable, progressive steps to take in any organization.”

The program costs an estimated $300,000, the bulk of which would be paid to a third-party organization to provide complex medical reviews.

The rest of the money would go toward attendance tracking software, disability management coordination and employee wellness initiatives.

Parent Monica Moberg said she believes absenteeism is a concern at her daughter’s school, and worries the quality of education is diminished when substitute teachers are brought in unnecessarily.

“I often hear from my child that it’s a Friday afternoon, it’s a long weekend, and her favourite teacher’s not here,” Moberg said.

The Vancouver Elementary School Teachers’ Association said it has serious apprehensions about the attendance program, which it fears could be punitive and create pressure for teachers to return to work before they’re ready.

The Vancouver School Board, which is facing a $7.9 million budget shortfall this year, insists it is focusing on supporting employees.

On top of the savings estimated from the program, the board expects it will need to eliminate eight teacher positions this year to balance the budget.

Lombardi said more than 200 positions have been axed over the last decade due to funding cuts from provincial government.

With a report form CTV British Columbia’s Mi-Jung Lee