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LAUSD could recoup $139 million by curbing chronic absences

Mike Szymanski | January 21, 2016

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Debra Duardo, Executive Director Student Health and Human Services

Debra Duardo, Executive Director Student Health and Human Services

What’s the easiest way for LAUSD to save millions of dollars to help stave off a budget crisis? Keep students in school.

More than 80,000 students are chronically absent at LA Unified, and that results in an annual loss of $139 million in revenue, Debra Duardo, executive director of Student Health and Human Services at LAUSD, told a board committee this week. The school district gets money from the state based on the number of students who attend.

“Attendance is our strongest revenue generator–90 percent of the money generated in this district is based on the students coming to the school every single day,”  she said.

Not only that, Duardo said, but if LAUSD were to increase the attendance in schools by only one percent — which would make it equal to the average in the state — that could bring in $45 million a year.

Mónica García, chair of the board’s Successful School Climate committee, jumped on that fact and pointed directly into the closed-circuit camera and said, “That’s $139 million we can recover if we have 100 percent attendance. There are 80,000 students chronically absent with 15 or more days; this is a large number of families. I want to challenge of us. We need your good phone numbers, we need your updated information.”

Alluding to families who may have had bad experiences with the district in the past, She added, “If there are issues causing absence, please reach out, there is help for you. If you have been disappointed in the past, reach out to us again. That’s a very large number. We can do better.”

Maisie Chin, executive director of the parent-led CADRE organization, said that parents have had frustration with LAUSD just wanting to collect Average Daily Attendance money and making the parents feel guilty for not bringing their children to school.

“We need to try not to do a sales job with the parents and further marginalize them,” she said. “We can’t just tell them to get their kids to school and not care how good or bad the school is, but just get them there so they can collect the ADA money.”

Duardo said the recent independent review panel report cited the cost to the district, suggesting that district officials need to create “a sense of urgency” about student attendance.

“We have a lot of work to do to get to our students to school,” Duardo said.

She also said the absences create additional challenges for poor families because they don’t have the time or money for tutoring or activities like taking children to museums.

“We are setting realistic goals for the district,” Duardo said. They hope to get 71 percent of the students coming to school 96 percent of the time and decrease the number of chronically absent population to less than 10 percent.

At the moment, the district shows that the worse attendances are with pre-K, transitional kindergarten and kindergarten students as well as ninth graders. Students in first through eighth grades are doing fine, Duardo said.

Mondays and Fridays are the worst days of attendance. A pupil-free day in the middle of the week will cause attendance to plummet on Thursday and Friday, according to district data.

For schools with poor attendance, the district is providing financial incentives for a vigorous outreach campaign to tell parents how important school attendance is. The district is collaborating with local law enforcement and focusing on a drop-out prevention program.

Absenteeism causes issues with the physical and mental health of students and is the strongest predictor that students will have trouble graduating, Duardo said.

“If students are not engaged in the school then they stop attending,” she said.




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