The state has gotten serious about curbing absenteeism, creating a new accountability system to replace the former Academic Performance Index. The new system will include factors ranging from assessment results to graduation rates and, yes, chronic absenteeism, which is defined as a student being absent for 10% or more of the school year.
La Cañada Unified School District’s revised attendance policies reflect the broader emphasis, with new rules that seek to encourage students to be at school as many of the 181 school days as possible, Superintendent Wendy Sinnette said at Tuesday’s Governing Board meeting.
“We have new attendance policies that are being implemented district-wide,” she said. “Attendance has become an important accountability measure from the state, and these policies need to demonstrate best practice for students, teachers and families while assuring our accountability to state metrics.”
Under the guidelines, it is recommended that teachers not allow make-up work for unexcused absences, which the district identifies as reasons such as suspensions, sleeping in, “ditch days,” family vacations, family responsibilities, sibling responsibilities, club sports, studying or attending the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
That recommendation gave at least one parent reason to pause.
At Tuesday’s board meeting, Belinda Randolph suggested that it isn’t fair to bar students from making up work if they miss class because of club sports commitments or sibling or family responsibilities.
“Improving learning and improving attendance are not necessarily dependent on each other,” Randolph said. “Both are valid goals, and both can be worked independently. … I believe that homework and assessments lead to improved learning. I believe that teacher-designed assignments improve learning. And for that reason, I believe that all students should be allowed make-up assignments, as make-up assignments lead to learning.”
Randolph mentioned that a recent La Cañada High School graduate was a National Merit Scholarship finalist and a dedicated gymnast, whose sport caused her to miss more than a few days of school.
“If she were still a student,” Randolph argued, “she would be a ‘habitual truant,’ and under the new LCHS attendance policy, as currently worded, her teachers would have heard recommendations to not allow her to make up work.”
Sinnette seemed to anticipate that the policies might receive some criticism. During her introductory remarks Tuesday, she indicated that the attendance guidelines remain amenable: “These policies are all living documents, under review to be fairly and consistently implemented. We’ll make adjustments as we move forward.”
The district relies on per-pupil funding from the state in its operating budget. School districts lose state funding for every student absence, no matter the reason. A student with perfect attendance represents $7,437.29 annually, or $41.09 per day.
LCUSD took a couple of steps Tuesday to prepare for a general obligation bond election, anticipated to occur in November 2017. The Governing Board voted 4-0 to approve contracts with financial advisers Rolapp & Associates, as well as TBWB Strategies, a consulting firm specializing in public finance ballot measures. (Board member Kaitzer Puglia was not in attendance.)
For a flat fee paid from the issuance of bonds, the financial advisory group will assist district personnel assess valuations, tax rates, bond benefits and the costs of various financing strategies.
TBWB, for a base consulting fee of $6,500 per month, will assist as the district develops potential bond strategies to be tested in polling. Among its duties, the group also will design, conduct and analyze an opinion survey of voters, and conduct a demographic analysis and analyze past election results.