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Sunday, December 16 , 2018, 8:20 am | Fair 42º


Absentee Rate Shows Small Decline in Santa Barbara Unified School District

Despite chronic absenteeism rates slightly dipping in 2016-17, the number of Santa Barbara Unified School District students who missed 18 or more days of school cost the district approximately $1.6 million in funding that year.

The overall chronic absence rate was 15 percent last school year, a decrease from 17 percent the year before, according to Frann Wageneck, assistant superintendent of student services.

The district’s junior high schools saw an overall increase of 1.3 percent in chronic absenteeism. Elementary schools had a slight 0.1 percent drop, and the high schools showed a significant decrease of 4.6 percent.

“The good news is that we made incredible gains,” Wageneck told the school board this week.

Chronic absenteeism is also used to measure accountability for schools and districts. It is noted in the California Dashboard, the state’s accountability system for schools.

The district’s annual truancy rate has fallen short of the state goal over the past four years, but the district saw an increase in attendance this year, according to a report prepared by Wageneck.

The annual attendance rate was 94.6 percent, or approximately $43 dollars per day, per student.  Daily attendance determines Local Control Funding from the state.

Based on California requirements, the average daily attendance goal is 95 percent or higher. The percentage is equivalent to a student attending 171 of the 180 school instruction days.

Seven of the 10 Santa Barbara Unified elementary schools and three junior high schools either met or exceeded the 95 percent annual attendance target. 

Dos Pueblos, San Marcos and Santa Barbara high schools did not reach the 95 percent target, but their attendance rates increased compared to the 2015-16 year.

The truancy rates in the 2016-17 school year dropped to 21 percent, compared to 25 percent in 2015-16.

A bright spot was attendance by foster and homeless youth. Their truancy rate decreased to 21 percent, compared to 29 percent in the 2015-16 school year.

Truancy is defined as a student having three or more unexcused absences in a school year, according to a staff report.

The Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office's Truancy Intervention Program has been a fundamental component of the countywide effort to prevent truancy, District Attorney Joyce Dudley said.

Dudley said truancy rates in the county have dropped well below state averages since the DA’s office established the program in 2012.

“The Truancy Program participates in every step of the process that school districts engage in to combat individual cases of truant behavior,” she said.

Members of the DA’s office work with district staff and students throughout the county to address the causes of truancy to improving school attendance, she said.

Reasons students might be truant include having language barriers, bullying, unidentified learning disabilities, transportation issues, mental-health issues and substance-abuse problems, Dudley said.

District attorney personnel have begun presenting anti-bullying workshops and are actively involved in countywide programs, she said.

“Early intervention efforts usually involve identifying truant students and offering services to address the cause of truancy unique to that particular student,” she said.

When multiple early intervention steps fail in curbing truant behavior, Dudley said, the student and their parent(s) are required to appear before the School Attendance Review Board, or SARB. 

SARB refers the student and the student’s family to community resources aimed at addressing absenteeism, and helps identify the truancy reasons.

“The DA’s program is an active participant in SARBs throughout the county,” Dudley said. “The focus on intervention and eliminating the causes of truancy is evidenced by the outreach activities of the members of the DA’s Truancy Program.”

Dudley said as a last resort, students and parents can face criminal charges for unaddressed truancy. Less than one percent of the individuals required to appear at a SARB were referred for criminal prosecution, she said.

Board President Kate Parker and board member Laura Capps were absent from the meeting. 

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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