Student absences have budget impacts for schools

  • Attendance technician Maria Lopez calls the parents of absent students at Comstock Middle School in Santa Rosa, on Thursday, December 13, 2012. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

In an era of deep budget cuts, school districts across California are putting a greater emphasis on reducing absences in an effort to shore up the state funding based on daily attendance.

Adding fuel to the push for better attendance are educators' worries that kids already are missing out on crucial instructional time because furlough days have become an increasingly common way for districts to save money.

And with rising federal and state academic standards, educators say the remaining school days have become ever more crucial for California students.

"There is both academic and financial benefit to this. It's not rocket science," said Hedy Chang, director of the state and national initiative Attendance Works.

Chang pointed to the recent focus on attendance by the largest school district in California, Los Angeles Unified, that has meant an infusion of state funding that previously had been lost.

"Their attendance improvement has brought them millions," she said.

A pilot program targeting chronic truants has been launched to focus on six of Santa Rosa City Schools' eight feeder elementary school districts: Bellevue, Bennett Valley, Mark West, Piner-Olivet, Rincon Valley and Wright.

"Truancy starts then. Kids, by the time they are in middle and high school, end up with real school engagement problems," said Cate Griffiths, executive director of Recourse Mediation Service, which is overseeing Project School Attendance Mediation.

The program is designed to address family issues that can make it difficult to get a child to school: mental and physical health issues, insecure housing, and transportation problems.

For Santa Rosa City Schools, by far the largest school district in Sonoma County, a 1 percent fluctuation in attendance has an impact of approximately $837,000 a year. In 2011-12, a slight uptick in attendance meant $54,000 in added revenue from the prior year.

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