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High school cracks down on truancy


Parents of violators can be cited into court, fined

Measures are being taken to crack down on absenteeism among students in the Estacada School District. But the district also is informing its teachers of the costs incurred by their absences.

Estacada High School Principal Scott Sullivan said some students would miss as many as 30 days in the first 90 days of a semester.

“That’s a big chunk of school to be gone,” Sullivan said.

In response, the school developed a policy that it started implementing last fall. Students must have a 90 percent attendance rate in order to attend formal dances. That includes excused and unexcused absences.

The district also is utilizing a more punitive approach toward student truancy. High School Vice Principal Ryan Carpenter said that according to state law, if a student misses 8.5 days or more in the space of four weeks, it is a violation. Students can be cited if they are 18 years old, but otherwise, the ticket goes to the parents.

A team has been created at the high school to deal directly with student absenteeism issues. It consists of counselors, Vice Principal Gary Lewis, the school’s attendance secretary and other officials, and meets every Thursday.

Since 32 missed class periods constitutes a violation, students get flagged when they reach the halfway mark. A letter is sent home to parents, and a counselor meets with the student.

Once a student misses 32 periods, a Clackamas County Sherriff’s deputy writes a citation for a $350 ticket.

Those citations make their way to court, which is held on the third Thursday evening of the month in Oregon City.

Estacada’s school district isn’t alone in pursuing this policy—Molalla, North Clackamas and others also are citing attendance violators to court.

Carpenter attended one of the recent court sessions. Five Estacada students and their parents had been summoned to appear, and were ordered to report back to the court one month later and demonstrate progress toward regular class attendance.

At least one Estacada student and parent have been fined for the attendance violations.

There are tangible benefits to the new policies, Carpenter said. At-risk students are being helped, parents are being held accountable, the school is following through with enforcement, and students are starting to warn each other about the consequences of cutting class.

“If we can get the kids to come to class, we have good enough teachers that grades, graduation rates and test scores will all rise,” Carpenter said.

District officials also have been crunching numbers to determine the costs of teacher absenteeism. When teachers call in sick, they are still paid as part of their salary. But the district must also incur the cost of paying a substitute.

“It’s a touchy issue. People get sick,” Business Manager Donna Cancio said. “But that day costs almost two times as much for that teacher.”

The district does have funds budgeted for substitute teachers, but Cancio said the costs “usually goes over” that amount.

Throughout the entire district, the cost for licensed substitute teachers was $248,604 for 2009-10. It dropped down to $215,938 for the next year and $212,551 for the 2011-12 school year.

Costs for substitute teachers have been dropping at some of the district’s schools. The junior high went from $47,023 to $23,815, and the high school dropped from $81,402 to $69,856.

At the elementary school level, though, they have gone up slightly. Clackamas River went from $24,382 in 2009-10 to $33,490 in 2011-12. Eagle Creek went up slightly, from $18,328 to $20,711 and $21,088.

“When budgets get tight, those things become more impactful,” Cancio said. “We’re looking at all avenues and expenses.”

Cancio emphasizes that the district is not singling out its teachers. Relations between administrative staff and the teachers have certainly been strained by the institution of three furlough days to offset an unanticipated $800,000 mid-year budget shortfall.

“Teachers calling in sick is not the reason we have a budget deficit. It is merely one of those items that we cannot control and therefore need to keep in mind when establishing our budgets,” she said. “It's akin to cities and counties that are responsible for road conditions in the winter. If we have a particularly rough winter, I am sure their budgets are blown out of the water.  They, like us, can't choose to not plow because they have exhausted their budget for snow removal. Nor can we cancel classes because we ran out of budget for licensed subs.”