How much do truant students cost the Rochester City School District?

Posted at: 02/05/2013 7:03 AM
Updated at: 02/05/2013 7:09 PM
By: Ray Levato

In the Rochester City School District, Superintendent Dr. Bolgen Vargas is taking truancy seriously. He and dozens of volunteers went door to door and brought kids back to school after talking with their parents.

Vargas says nearly 30-percent of students have missed two or more weeks of school this year – that’s 8,000 students. He told us that 1,100 students have missed more than 50 instructional days or 10 weeks of school.

So what does this mean in dollars and cents to the tax payer?

On any given day, 3,000 city school students are not in school for any number of reasons. We wanted to know the cost to City taxpayers who support the schools to the tune of about $119-million a year.

“If you talk to a police officer they will tell you that most kids who are in trouble, teenagers, are those kids who are not coming to school on a regular basis.” Dr. Vargas said it's not easy to put a cost for the kids who don't show up for school but using the city school's budget, we did.

It breaks down to about $18,000 per student. That's comparable to the tuition at top private schools in our area and it's about $100 a day per student. Those 8,000 kids who miss at least two weeks of school? That comes to $8-million.

But superintendent Boglen Vargas says the real cost is the loss of student achievement -- not to mention the cost to society. “The cost to our students' lives is enormous. The cost to society is enormous. When you have a significant number of students who are not coming to school, that means they are placing themselves at risk of not graduating.”

Vargas said his priority was finding out who is in school and who's not. We asked him if he thinks he’s made a dent in the truancy problem. He said, “I think we have and here is where we are making progress. Last year when I came here the data was not accurate. There was some glitches in the way we took attendance. Our teachers are doing a great job in taking attendance, and our schools are doing a job in doing so. I'm trying to do my best to send a warning to this community.”

Dr. Vargas says he's not letting parents off the hook either. He's holding them accountable even if it means going to family court.

In a statement to News10NBC, Vargas says they don’t know of an accurate way to calculate the dollar costs to the district of students not being in school.

Statement from the Rochester city School District:

We don't know of an accurate way to calculate the dollar costs to the District of students not being in school.

·The District is legally required to pay teachers, provide materials and make sure there is classroom space for every student whether they attend school or not. So there is no additional cost if we achieve 100 percent attendance, and no savings from absent students that could be diverted to other uses. You can divide the District's budget by the number of students and multiply by missed days to come up with a number, but it's not a meaningful measure.

·RCSD can't calculate the cost in aid dollars. Average attendance is one factor in a very complex formula used to determine NYSED aid to Districts-though lower attendance has a negative impact, we can't isolate a specific dollar amount for a given attendance level.

·Attendance below 90 percent is one of the markers for a Priority School, the state's designation for low-performing schools for which the District has to develop specific improvement plans. The plans carry a cost, but they are driven by multiple student achievement measures and not just attendance.

The 42 people who knocked on doors today were volunteering their time, so there is little cost to the monthly out reaches. We can try to put a cost on the overall truancy initiative if you need it, but can't put a figure on the cost to the District of absent students.