District stresses good attendance

When Jane Milanes told her son’s elementary school that he’d be out of school for a family vacation early in the school year, she was surprised to receive a letter asking for a donation of about $30, to make up for the money the school would lose because of his absence.

Many more parents of children in the San Mateo-Foster City School District will start receiving similar letters, as district leaders attempt to educate parents about the connection between their children’s attendance and the schools’ coffers.

The school district is paid per “derriere in the chair,” district officials explained, meaning that higher attendance translates to more cash for the district at a time when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is threatening a 10 percent budget cut for schools.

Raising attendance is a less painful way to generate funds, she said. As it stands, the district’s attendance rate is a little more than 96 percent, said Michaela Ochoa, the district’s finance director. An increase to 97 percent would bring in another $500,000 per year for schools.

“If students are ill, obviously they can’t come to school,” Rosas said. “But we might ask parents not to take vacation during school hours, or to schedule their dentist or orthodontist appointments after school instead of during school hours.”

A program aimed at boosting attendance is just one of several measures the district is considering to help make ends meet during the state cutbacks, district spokeswoman Joan Rosas said.

On Thursday, the district’s board of trustees will consider laying off dozens of school aides — including educators that work in classrooms, with students with special needs and in libraries — Rosas said. The district may also start charging more for its facilities and fields, and begin — for the first time ever — to charge students as much as $400 for some summer school classes, she said.

As for parent Milanes, she said she was happy to contribute to the school when her son was absent earlier this year, but was shocked that she was even asked to do so.

“My son had just transferred from a private school, and this was our first experience in the public school, and I was shocked — I thought, ‘Wow, they’re really hurting if they have to send a letter like this home,’” she said.

kworth@examiner.com

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