This trend line was used to explain the loss to the district due to absences at a recent meeting of the ETUSD trustees. It was prepared by Steve Mattern, director of financial services for the Kern County Superintendent of Schools, to show parents and trustees how much the district is losing due to absences. The district needs to make up about $200,000 for next year.
By Liz Chavez, Frazier Mountain High School parent
In these tough economic times, aren’t we thankful that at least our children’s public education is still free? Of course, public education is not really free. A portion of our property taxes goes to fund our school district. The amount is based on the average daily attendance (ADA) at our schools.
No more excused absences
Many years ago the state paid schools even when a student was absent, as long as the absences were excused for illness or doctor’s appointments. But in 1998 those “excused absence” funds were stopped.
Now schools are paid only for the days each child actually attends, even though the overhead for maintaining the schools and staff does not go away when students are absent.
As a parent of two students who have been educated in our El Tejon Unified School District—one has graduated, another is still at FMHS—I really want our schools to gain programs, not lose them. When I saw we are losing hundreds of thousands of dollars a year because of student absences, I decided to write to tell parents how they can help keep those programs in our schools.
Currently the state pays about $35 per day for each student. If the student is not there, the state does not pay.
Do the math
On an average day, each school in our district has an absentee rate of about 6-10%. That doesn’t sound too bad, until you consider that is approximately 20-30 absences per school per day, with even more during cold and flu season, which can add up to about 100 days lost per week per school site.
Do the math: $35 x 100 = $3,500 per school, per week! For three schools, that’s a loss of about $10,500 to the school district per week.*
That adds up to a loss of several teacher’s salaries, fuel for buses and the loss of educational programs. Consider the huge loss in funds from state budget cuts combined with losses due to student absences. How can schools continue to operate?
Each school must be able to generate enough funds to pay for quality teachers, school supplies, textbooks, transportation and utilities; plus staff to clean and maintain each school, office staff, cafeteria staff; and any extra tutoring, student activities, extracurricular programs, and sports. The list seems endless.
Our schools are operating on a bare-bones budget every day right now, but still must meet state requirements to budget for reserve funds and be prepared for more cuts to state funding in the next school year. Teachers and staff see this, so at each school teachers and administrators often reach into their own pockets to pay for classroom supplies, student incentives and much more, including helping students to purchase personal supplies and even lunches.
Parents can make the difference
Absences due to illness cannot be helped. But parents, please consider these facts when you plan vacations, shopping trips and any unnecessary absences. Please schedule so the school does not continue to lose precious funds. It needs those funds to provide your child with the best education and programs it can offer.
We cannot complain about the size of classes, lost activities or lack of programs if we do not take responsibility to get our children to school every day. Let’s do what we can to save programs in our schools.
• Liz Chavez is a parent and also a special education aide who is employed at ETUSD. Click to see an explanation by Superintendent Rodney Wallace, using a slightly different method of estimating the loss to the schools due to absences.
This is part of the March 28, 2014 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.
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