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Forty-two percent of Hillsborough students absent on Good Friday

About 190 school bus drivers were absent on Good Friday, which is down significantly from the more than 400 drivers who took off in 2008, when the school district first went to a secular calendar that made Good Friday a school day.

SKIP O’ROURKE | Times

About 190 school bus drivers were absent on Good Friday, which is down significantly from the more than 400 drivers who took off in 2008, when the school district first went to a secular calendar that made Good Friday a school day.

TAMPA — Good Friday is not a holiday in Hillsborough County schools.

But try convincing parents, teachers, students and bus drivers.

Forty-two percent of Hillsborough students stayed away from class Friday.

About 190 bus drivers were absent — about 19 percent of the force — and 1,400 teachers, or 10 percent, notified the district they needed substitutes, a school district spokeswoman said.

Only 915 substitutes were available, leaving some classes to double up, district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said. Total cost in substitutes: about $68,076 for the day.

Luis Perez, executive director of the non-instructional employees union, said bus drivers reported largely empty buses, even though many who did work picked up at more than the usual number of stops.

"We are disappointed that more people didn't come to school," Cobbe said, "but the attendance was higher than it was two years ago."

Two years ago, in 2008, after the district decided to go to a secular school calendar, more than 400 bus drivers missed work, 58 percent of students didn't show and more than 1,900 teachers called in for subs.

"I think the record shows that Good Friday should be a day off," said Perez, who had helped call transportation employees Thursday urging them to come in.

The School Board is expected to take up the 2010-2011 school calendar at its next meeting, 3 p.m. April 20.

"I think we'll look at" making Good Friday a day off, said board member Jack Lamb. "We made a commitment to look at the figures two years ago. But I can't predict what seven people are going to do."

Board member Doretha Edgecomb said she credits the leadership of the bus drivers union for improvement in attendance this Good Friday, but acknowledged that the student absence rate was reflective of family choices.

"Any time students are out of school, we're bothered by that because we want them in school," she said.

The School Board wanted to collect at least two years of data on Good Friday absenteeism, Cobbe said. It wasn't an issue last year because the day overlapped with spring break.

A huge consideration in arranging school time off is when the state's standardized testing is scheduled. The district sets a week to deliver the exams, another week for makeup tests, and a third week to pack and mail the tests back to the state.

Currently, the state has scheduled the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test for Grades 3 through 11 on April 11-22, 2011, which means the last day of the second week — which would probably be reserved for make-up testing — would fall on Good Friday.

"When I think about that calendar, the FCAT is another factor in the equation," Edgecomb said. "I felt we were obligated (when we made the change) to choose a calendar that would keep children in school the majority of the time."

Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at rcatalanello@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3383.

Forty-two percent of Hillsborough students absent on Good Friday 04/02/10 [Last modified: Saturday, April 3, 2010 12:37am]
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