TAMPA — Automated phone calls and frantic Facebook posts could go only so far in getting kids back to school Monday in Hillsborough County.
At day's end, the school district estimated attendance at 82.3 percent. Nearly one in five students were not in their seats.
"Everybody likes an extra day off," said district spokesman Steve Hegarty, who also checked the attendance rate for the first day back to school in 2011. It was 90.7 percent.
The School Board agreed to the Jan. 2 return date at a calendar meeting last March.
In doing so, members were trying to balance several factors, including their desire to close schools for the entire week of Thanksgiving, which saves money on utilities; and a state law that doesn't allow the fall term to begin until two weeks before Labor Day.
Board member Stacy White warned that Jan. 2 — a day of post-holiday travel and college football — might be too early.
He was overruled, with member Carol Kurdell remarking that kids should get the message: "You need to be in school."
White repeated his misgivings in December, after the day was declared a holiday for many government and financial institutions. By comparison, Pinellas County students go back to school today and Pasco County resumes classes Jan. 10.
The Hillsborough district sent reminders Sunday by Twitter, email and the ParentLink phone system. Adding to the district's concerns, Hegarty said, was an erroneous closing reported in the Tampa Tribune, which was later corrected. District employees spread the word on their personal Facebook pages as well.
On a normal day not following a long weekend or vacation, Hegarty said, attendance hovers between 94 and 95 percent.
But today holds little guarantee, he said, as "it's going to be cold outside."
Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or firstname.lastname@example.org.