KSAT Defenders find absenteeism costs schools millions

Lanier High tops in absenteeism survey

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SAN ANTONIO - A KSAT 12 Defenders investigation into school absenteeism showed local districts failed to collect millions of dollars from the state because students were absent from class.

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The state funds local districts based on the number of children attending class.

In the first nine weeks of the 2013-2014 school year, Northside ISD failed to collect $2,896,039.04; San Antonio ISD $2,680,815.75; North East ISD $2,576,910.82. Even the much smaller South San Antonio ISD missed out on $502,817.22 in funding.

Northside ISD spokesman Pascual Gonzalez said that money could have been used for teachers, buses and buildings. He said students also lose out.

"By them not being in school, they're missing out on the day's lessons, which are hard to make up by yourself," Gonzalez said. "This is money that's lost."

In a survey of five school districts, NEISD's Serna Elementary had the highest absentee rate of the elementary schools at just 4.5 percent.

The rate was just a little bit less for Irving Middle School in SAISD, when compared to other middle schools.

The high school with the highest absentee rate was Lanier High in SAISD at nearly 7 percent.

SAISD Spokeswoman Leslie Price said Lanier is taking special pains to address the reasons for the absenteeism.

"For instance, if it's an academic issue, then that could include some tutoring,” Price said. “If it's a financial issue, then it's connecting them with social services. The good news is that we're seeing some improvement."

Northside ISD took pains to produce a special video on the subject of absenteeism. It includes interviews with students about why they come to school, an interview with the superintendent about the attendance law and even video of what happens in truancy court when absences become a problem. It plays on school websites and reminds kids why school is fun and reminds parents why it's the law.

The compulsory attendance law states that students must be in class or parents are held accountable in municipal court.

Emilio Valdez went there to deal with a truancy issue regarding his daughter and said the school should do more to keep her in class.

"There's only so much we can do as parents,” Valdez said. “We send our kids to school -- put them there. If the school is allowing them to leave, how is that our fault?"

Valdez says he wouldn't be in court if his daughter's school would keep her in class after he drops her off.

Parent Violinda Guajardo also favors closed campuses. "I think so,” Guajardo said. “I think seniors that are allowed to leave should be carrying a badge or a little something indicating they're allowed to leave."

Parent Jennifer Lopez said attendance should be rewarded and parents not fined. "I don't think just bringing them to court all the time and their parents missing work and stuff, no, that's not going to do anything," Lopez said.

Parent Monica Morales had a message for teachers about their students. "Treat them better,” Morales said. “Not have their attitude.”

Her son, Valentine Morales, said that would work. "I'm being respectful (so they should) show me some respect," he said.

A controversial pilot program in the Northside district where students carried badges with electronic monitors was also an attempt to hold down the absentee rate.

Gonzalez said it did not bring in the money the district expected and the program was scrapped.

For a list of recent stories Brian Mylar has done, click here.

Click here to view more videos on KSAT.com.


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