A student's absence from school presents two major problems. First, the student isn't learning and, second, school districts are missing out on key revenue from the state.
Greg Blount, the Merced City School District's director of support services and information technology, said 96.4 percent of the 17-campus system's students attended classes in May and June, up from a 95.79 percent figure reported for last March.
Blount, other administrators and principals have a program to address chronic absence figures.
"The goal is 97 percent and we're close district-wide," Greg Spicer, associate superintendent for administrative services, said. "More attendance will generate more money to do what we can do for kids."
Gene Stamm, a member of the district's Board of Education, wants to see leaders be more aggressive in getting students to school. He prefers the personal touch with parents rather than automated phone calls telling them their children are absent.
"Truancies start in kindergarten, not sixth grade," Stamm said. "A child not in his seat isn't learning, and we lose money on that child. We could have a lot more income."
Blount said the district is beginning to see momentum building on the attendance front. In the school year that ended in June, 558 students, or about 5 percent of total district enrollment, were chronically absent.
Spicer said the state pays the school district $30 a day per student; down from $35 for each unit of average daily attendance about four years ago. A former principal, Spicer said the district budgeted for a 95.4 percent attendance rate.
Blount said chronic absences are defined as students' missing 10 percent or more of classes, whether excused or not. Attendance started out strong last fall, dipped in the wintertime and rebounded as the school year ended — and he's not sure exactly why.
A combination of colds, flu, other medical issues and travel out of state may be to blame for dips in attendance, Blount speculated. School nurses may contact parents to see if their children are eating properly, practice proper hygiene, go to the doctor when necessary or have other reasons to miss school.
Spicer believes the district's offer of free breakfasts to all students is helping increase attendance. Previously a principal at John C. Fremont Charter School for eight years, Spicer said principals are instrumental in working with parents and bolstering attendance.
Superintendent RoseMary Parga Duran said the district is being vigilant in addressing chronic absences and is pinpointing students who previously fell through the cracks.
Annie Dossetti, assistant superintendent for educational services, said there are procedures schools follow when students are absent for certain periods of time. She said the district has focused on bringing up attendance numbers in the past three years.
The district now offers schools cash incentives for hiking attendance numbers. A 0.25 percent increase means an extra $500 for a campus, and a 1 percent attendance jump yields $1,000 for a school. Five campuses — Franklin, Reyes, Sheehy, Cruickshank and Hoover — boosted attendance and shared cash awards in June.
At Franklin School, for example, cash awards helped classrooms buy flags which can be flown outside a room when there is perfect attendance. The district has 10,800 students at 17 campus sites.
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.