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GUSD taking aim at truancy

GUSTINE – Truancy is costing the Gustine Unified School District tens of thousands of dollars a year in revenue, while interrupting the education of students who choose not to be in class.

District leaders are working on a program aimed at getting more of those students in the classroom on a regular basis.

Attendance in general is a focal point, explained Superintendent Dr. Ron Estes, with the two-fold goal of educational achievement (students don’t learn if they aren’t in class) and maximizing district revenues (most of the district’s revenues are derived from average daily attendance).

Increasing the districtwide attendance from its current 94.18 percent to 96 percent would bring in an additional $263,000 a year in attendance-based funding, Estes recently pointed out.

“We will put together a truancy action plan that has a couple of different pieces,” Estes commented.

Those components will likely include a carrot or two – perhaps in the form of attendance incentives – and also a stick, with school resource officers working to change the ways of habitual truants.

Truancy is particularly an issue at Gustine High.

Principal John Petrone said ongoing truancy issues at Gustine High and an eye-opening report on the costs of truancy issued by Attorney General Kamala Harris spurred him to meet recently with Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse and Assemblyman Adam Gray in an effort to garner support for tougher truancy measures.

Last year, Petrone said, truancy at Gustine High cost the district about $85,000 in per-pupil funding. As of November of this year, the lost revenue toll of unexcused absences stood at about $21,000, he estimated.

“There is a lot of money being lost to public education. There is a societal impact from truancy as well, but that is harder to quantify,” Petrone reflected.

The reasons for truancy vary widely, he added.

“Sometimes parents are complicit. Sometimes, the students are basically ruling the roost or there is an absence of parents in the situation,” the principal commented.

Students are considered chronic truants once they accumulate seven days of unexcused absences.

Petrone said letters and meetings with parents precede that designation in an effort to improve attendance.

“You try to prevent that student from crossing over that imaginary line,” he reflected. “When we have chronic truants and the parents are asking for help, we will send the school resource officer to their home and literally get them out of bed.”

A local Student Attendance Review Board (SARB) handles cases of habitual truancy, but Petrone acknowledged that attempting to resolve difficult cases can be frustrating.

“At some point, there has to be some teeth at the end in order to compel these kids to come to school,” he emphasized. “There are legal consequences, but there always seem to be some impediment to reaching those extremes. There is a perception that the process will just reach a point and the system will throw up its hands and do nothing further…..and in some cases that happens.”

Parents can be held liable if they are not making a good faith effort to get their children to school, Petrone noted. In one instance last year, he said, the school resource officer issued a citation to a parent for violating the compulsory education law.

Parents cannot be held accountable if they are doing everything within their power to get their child to attend school.

“When the onus is on the student, that it where it gets really sticky,” Petrone stated.

The goal, he reiterated, is to remedy truancy issues early on – while still having tools to effectively combat more excessive situations.

“Some of the truancy issues get rectified along the way, but with the extreme cases where you get to the end of the process…..you can put a case together and send it to the district attorney, but with their fiscal issues and staffing, how much time can they legitimately devote to that?” Petrone reflected. “I’m not casting blame, they’re just overwhelmed and understaffed.”

Petrone said he would be interested in seeing a countywide SARB reinstated, and more resources devoted to programs designed to keep students in school.

That effort, he emphasized, must start long before high school years.

“You have to get to the students when they are younger,” Petrone commented. “If a student is truant in their primary years, the likelihood of that continuing is there.”

  • gustine citizen

    Same old story from Gustine school district. Worried about the all mighty $$$$$$$, not about helping the kids, its just “give me a larger paycheck”!!!

    • Wassim Absood

      So, are you suggesting that getting more kids in school won’t help them? That having more money with which to provide more services won’t help students? That seems to be the thrust of your comment…..

      Feel free to correct the record if I’m wrong.

      • justin

        I didn’t go to Gustine High, I was raised in Boise Id, capital high had the same issues. but the support should come from both, sometime having a school councilor talk the child in question something might be bothering the student. but u right they need to be in school not just for the district but for the kids future..

  • gustine citizen

    I’m taking about all the administration is worried about is $$$$$. For the last decade or so, the administration only cared about giving themselves raises and not worried about class size or keeping great teachers. Why don’t you compare the salaries of the administrators compared to the teachers. If the admin salaries were brought down to a manageable level then there would be more money to spend on programs and teachers so kids would want to come to school. From what I have seen, administrators are greedy and only care about their own agenda and getting wealthy off the backs of their teachers and students.

    • Wassim Absood

      Not sure if I agree, but thank you for the clarification.

    • John Petrone

      The comments uttered here by “gustine citizen” are breathtakingly uninformed at best. In fact they are so absurd on so many levels I do not know where to begin.Sad when such ill informed individuals choose not post their names so a real and truthful dialogue can take place.Those of us here at GHS and the GUSD that pour our hearts into our profession every day know the truth.

  • Caralyn Mendoza

    It’s about educating kids which can’t be done if they aren’t at school. If a student misses 10 days a year, by the time they are a senior they have lost an entire year of school. Good attendance begins in kinder. There are many ways to approach this and the new funding holds districts accountable for student engagement and connectedness to school. This has to be a community effort.

  • Brandy Taylor

    Its funny, when i went to school there back between 2003-2007 I had a teacher tell me to drop out. Not only that but i also had teachers tell me I was not going to graduate. Its as much the parents responsibility as it is the teachers. When you have no encouragement from either side you can’t expect students to want to learn or come to school. Thats something thats always been an ongoing issue with Gustine school system.