CHICAGO – Many school districts give employees anywhere from 10-15 sick days per year and allow them to bank unused days.

Most districts cap the number of banked days, ranging from 30 or so to a few hundred, but then allow employees to cash them out when they leave or retire.

It’s one of those hidden costs that is driving up the cost of public education. That’s the subject of our latest EAG Education Report.

Let’s look at some specifics.

The Chicago Sun Times reported from 2006 to 2012, Chicago Public Schools paid out a total of $227 million in reimbursement for unused sick time to employees. For some context, that’s the price of about 324,000 iPads.

The most notable of the recipients? U. S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. When he resigned as CPS’ CEO to join the Obama administration, he was cut a check for $50,297.

But he’s in the poor house compared to some others.

The top recipient: Ascencion Juarez, the district’s former human resources officer, who walked out with $200,285 in unused sick pay.

Former Chief Education Officer Barbara Eason-Watkins took home $159,843. Former Lake View High School Principal Scott Feaman scored $171,604.

Because these big payouts counted toward each employee’s final year of pay, they also reaped an artificially higher pension, because retirement pensions are based on income over the final years of employment. That puts even more strain on Illinois’ teetering government employee pension system.

Will this out-of-control spending help a single student learn how to read? Should any money be spent by schools when it’s not somehow connected to student learning?

In the case of CPS, how can the district parcel out millions for unused sick days when it’s facing a $1 billion deficit, closing schools and laying off teachers?

The Chicago district is certainly not alone in this regard.

In the 2010-11 school year, the Cleveland school district paid out $4 million for unused sick days. The Denver district paid out more than $331,000 while the Detroit district spent $12.5 million.

As if being paid extra money for coming to work is not enough, the Los Angeles district actually offers an “attendance incentive plan” for teachers. The district spent more than $207,000 on that program in one school year alone.

That’s why so many people knowledgeable with school spending are skeptical when districts complain about money problems. Quite often they receive more than enough to meet their needs, if they would only control their spending and make sure every dime that goes out the door is somehow related to student learning.

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