Published Online: September 24, 2003
Published in Print: September 24, 2003, as Take Note

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Attendance Counts

School officials in California's 9,000-student Los Alamitos Unified School District, who have been struggling to make ends meet amid tighter budgets and troubled state funding, have sent out a plea that may soon start costing parents of absentee students a pretty penny.

The district issued a letter concerning the financial implications of excessive student absences at the start of the school year and asked that parents who pull their children out of school for extended vacations and medical appointments open their pocketbooks to help recoup lost state funding.

The district, which lost $1.1 million in state funding during the 2001-02 school year as a result of student absences, is asking the parents to voluntarily shell out $40 each day a child is absent for non-illness-related reasons. While the notice disturbed some parents, said Deanne Sciborski, the executive assistant to the superintendent, the district issued the letters as a way to raise parent awareness of the academic value and financial impact of student attendance.

"Many parents don't realize the kind of impact this can have," she said. "[State money] is our bread and butter."

Nearly 80 percent of the district's funding comes from state payments that are based on average daily student attendance. State funding helps pay for textbooks, instructional materials, teacher salaries, and other classroom expenses.

The letter, which was signed by both the superintendent and the president of the board of education, encourages parents to avoid scheduling vacations, outings, and full-day doctor appointments during school hours.

"In California schools, funding is limited," said Ms. Sciborski. She noted that for many years, the state allowed schools to receive funding for most excused absences, such as doctor appointments and student vacations. In 1998, however, the law changed, and the state began withholding aid when students missed school.

That change placed the Los Alamitos district in a monetary vise. And while the district, which has a budget of $60 million, has yet to cut any academic programs, officials have been forced to cut back on part-time staffing this year.

"We're in a funding crisis. It was the right time to remind [parents] of the value of student attendance," Ms. Sciborski said.

—Marianne D. Hurst

Vol. 23, Issue 4, Page 3

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