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All Absences Are Not Created Equal.

Jim O'Halloran

Insights | January 13, 2021

From planned PTO to one-time vacancies, the reasons for K12 absences are as varied as the subjects we teach. As we continue our ongoing series on the Evolution of Modern Absence Management, let’s take a deeper look at the first element of the absence management process: Absence Reporting. When absences are initiated well from the get-go, the entire HR system runs more efficiently, fill rates can potentially increase, and staff gets paid accurately.

All Hands on Deck (and in the System)

Typically, we think of absences as related to teachers and substitute teachers, but really, any employee, not just classroom teachers, can and probably should use the district’s absence management software system to request their leave, whether a substitute is required or not. From the superintendent to the temporary crossing guard — and everyone in between — an “all-hands” absence management policy can:

  • Establish a consistent, equitable method across the organization.
  • Allow for leave approval workflow between employees and their supervisors.
  • Provide accurate data for leave tracking and reporting. P.S. Your auditors care about this stuff. School boards, too.

Having everyone logging in to the same system may sound ideal, but keep in mind that it only works when the system is intuitive and easy to use across the board. It’s important to remember that while substitute managers may interact with the system daily, a teacher may only need to report an absence a few times during an entire school year. Any efficiency can quickly evaporate if the software or app is cumbersome or frustrating to use.

Creative Absence Creation

For the growing number of employees who have unusual schedules and/or multiple positions, creating complex absences can be difficult or even impossible in some software. Now add COVID-19 into the equation and the flexibility to reconfigure an absence on a dime has reached critical mass.

As often happens, significant challenges occur when a substitute cannot be found for an absent classroom teacher. School staff must scramble to cover the absence so that students are not left unattended. Usually, the absence is broken into segments and assigned on the fly to various available adults: a counselor, principal, or teacher with a planning period that they’re willing to trade. But all of this fine-grained ad-hoc staffing needs to be recorded and ultimately settled in the payroll process. It’s a tall order for any absence management software system. But these “class coverage” situations occur every day when substitute fill rates are below one hundred percent.

At its best, a nimble, modern system that can break larger blocks into smaller segments, and describe those assignments in detail — either when the absence is initially created, or at any time it could benefit by being reconfigured — has the potential to give more people the opportunity, as well as the desire, to fill those open positions. When evaluating any absence management software solution, this level of detail and scheduling flexibility is a critical function in today’s world.


Consider the overnight custodian whose work shift is from 10 PM to 6 AM; the software needs to recognize their absence as a single shift spanning two calendar days. Rudimentary software might not accommodate this absence structure, requiring the employee to create two different absence records, one for each calendar day. Not a great software experience for the janitor, or for the substitute trying to pick up the job. It’s also a mess for payroll processing. 

Filling ALL the Vacancies

In many districts, the additional concept of vacancy management has now become an important staffing strategy. Vacancies look and function much like regular employee absences; they are job postings for qualified workers who can fill a specific assignment at a particular time and place. But instead of replacing a regular employee, vacancies are used for:

  • Special assignments or extra duty, such as a test proctor or library assistant.
  • Temporary worker until permanent hire is made.
  • Hard-to-hire positions (STEM teachers, SPED staff).
  • One-time specialized curriculum, such as bully prevention.

However, not all absence management software is equipped to handle vacancies smoothly. Cobbled together from their core “sub finding” function, some systems simply don’t have the flexibility to accommodate today’s varied vacancy scenarios. In some cases, prospective workers are only notified of a generic vacancy, but nothing about the nature of the work to be performed. Not knowing “Am I going to be a classroom aide, a library helper or driver’s ed instructor?” leaves them wondering whether to even bother accepting the assignment. This may be especially true for gig workers who could easily just do something else, or those who have no experience with a particular school. And, more often than not during these times of COVID-19, the answer is “nah, I’d rather not take the risk, I’ll pass.” 

Think of how modern software designed with vacancies in mind could make a difference. At its simplest, when vacancy opportunities are described in more detail, interested subs may be more willing to accept. On the higher level, allowing districts to comprehensively integrate their vacancies into the bigger HR picture makes for more effective management of human resources. 


Best Practice around the use of vacancies is to carefully manage the authority to create and approve vacancy assignments in the absence management software. The issue is cost; each vacancy post is a hiring decision with some financial consequence and so should be done under the authority of selected administrators. Modern software allows for clear definition of vacancy reasons and the ability to authorize individual vacancy approvers and their permissions.

Accuracy for the Win

Aside from the simplicity and flexibility of the absence creation process, which is important to individual employees, an overarching issue for administration is accuracy. With an average of 80% of a typical district budget devoted to personnel costs, accurate absence creation also keeps payroll and the auditors happy.

Employee leave tracking

  • At the risk of stating the obvious, it is essential to keep accurate records of employees’ leave balances, which are typically established in collective bargaining agreements. The financial value of employee leave entitlements is substantial.

Budget coding and payroll

  • Substitute payroll is an ongoing challenge for school districts because it is often complex and unpredictable. A modern software system must be able to handle multiple accounting codes associated with a variety of funding mechanisms or “pots of money.”


A teacher who works in a special grant-funded program in a Title 1 school might be paid from two or more budget accounts. Usually, their substitute is paid from the same accounts and in the same proportion. Corresponding pay details must be accurately associated with the absence and the sub who accepts the job. Other scenarios can be much more complicated.

Checking all the Boxes

Modern software design allows flexible configuration of absence timing, reasons and budget codes, so that clear and accurate information is generated by the system for each employee absence and substitute assignment. The last thing anyone wants are incomplete reports that require substantial manual editing before the data is ready for payroll import — and that’s if an import is even possible in an older system.

At the end of the day, two critical data streams need to be issued out of the absence management system so that people can get their paychecks: Employee leave detail coupled with Substitute pay detail.

Seems simple enough, an employee scheduling a sick day and a sub showing up, but behind the scenes is a careful configuration and exchange of data elements transferred from one software system to another, ensuring accurate payroll and employee leave accounting. These are mundane yet critical administrative functions for any school district, large or small. 

Done Right from the Start

It’s fair to say that initial absence reporting done well sets the ball rolling for the entire HR experience. Understanding that districts need flexibility combined with accuracy throughout the entire HR cycle, Red Rover has been designed from the ground up to handle today’s K12 absence management challenges. The absence creation tools districts have always wanted, combined with an interface that people enjoy, multiple levels of user-defined detail, and powerful back-end reporting, make Red Rover the K12 absence management software solution for ever-changing times.


Watch for our next installment of the Evolution of Absence Management: Absence Review and Approval.

To learn more about how Red Rover is designed to handle multiple levels of absence reporting, contact us or schedule a demo.

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