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  1. Education

Student absences still a problem in Pasco schools

Published Sep. 17, 2014

LAND O'LAKES — Pasco County schools still have an attendance problem.

Three years after district officials raised the red flag over chronic student absenteeism, the School Board continued Tuesday to explore solutions.

"This is a community imperative," student services supervisor Carrie Morris said at a workshop.

She said more than one-third of high school students missed 20 or more days of classes in 2012-13, the most recent completed data available. More than 36 percent of elementary students and more than half of middle schoolers were absent 10 or more days.

Those numbers were little changed from when the board reviewed them in 2011 and pledged to find ways to get kids to come and stay in school.

Superintendent Kurt Browning, who ran on a platform of improving the statistics, acknowledged the difficulty in making gains. "It's like nailing Jell-O to a tree," he said.

"Parents have the responsibility to get their children to school," he said. "Our responsibility is to make sure when they get to school that they are engaged … that we care about them and that we are meeting the social and emotional needs that they have."

Board member Allen Altman proposed getting resource officers to call the parents of those who regularly miss class, to convey the importance of attending. He also suggested creating a demanding in-school suspension program, so students do not come to like being out of school when suspended.

Perhaps most important, Altman said, schools have the responsibility to make class interesting so children want to be there.

Morris said a committee had met over the past several months, examining data, interviewing students and better understanding the problem. The next steps, she said, are to begin identifying and implementing solutions.

Board chairwoman Alison Crumbley said the district must remain aware that many of the children with the poorest attendance and related low achievement do not always have support at home that helps them understand the importance of school.

She called for an increase of guidance counselors and mentors for those students.

In other business, the board approved its 2014-15 budget and five-year facilities work plan. The budget includes a tax rate decrease of 20.8 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. Rising property values and higher enrollment led to a 5 percent increase in the operating budget.

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