Through March 27, parents can make a difference in their
students’ educational careers simply by sending them to school.
Through March 27, parents can make a difference in their students’ educational careers simply by sending them to school.

As Morgan Hill Unified School District officials scramble for cash in an increasingly uncertain financial time, school administrators are offering incentives to students to go to school. Every day a student is in class, the district gets $33 from the state.

The state provides funding for the general fund based on the Average Daily Attendance, or ADA. This is calculated based on the number of students in class every day, from the first day of school through the eighth fiscal month, which ends March 27.

Absences, even excused ones, cost the district. More importantly, District Superintendent Alan Nishino said, they cost the students.

“Attendance affects achievement,” he said. “If you’re not going, you’re not going to learn.”

While district enrollment this year is hovers around 9,100, the district is funded for just 8,762 students, based on attendance. That makes for a 96 percent attendance rate and $52 million from the state annually. If the district could get half of the absent students to attend, it could see and additional $1 million in state revenue.

For every day a student misses school for any reason, the district doesn’t get paid. With its current ADA rate, the district is losing $2 million for absences. That’s more than two-thirds of the current district budget shortfall of $2.5 million.

“The revenues are what they are, yet education must go forward,” Deputy Superintendent of Business Services Bonnie Tognazzini said at a recent budget workshop.

Regardless of how many students are in the classroom on a given day, the district still has to pay the power bill and the teacher’s salary for that class, she told a group of district employees and concerned parents.

Morgan Hill’s attendance rate is better than Gilroy Unified School District’s by 2 percentage points. Gilroy’s average daily attendance is 9,930 out of 10,550 students enrolled, or 94 percent.

Morgan Hill and Gilroy use similar tactics to boost attendance. Principals in both districts offer incentives, from keychains and pencils at the elementary level to free yearbooks and raffle tickets at the high schools, according to officials from both districts. Gilroy has an attendance officer, Frank Valadez, who oversees these incentives. Morgan Hill does not have an attendance officer.

“We get accused by parents of just caring about the money,” Valadez, Gilroy’s attendance officer, said. “But what they don’t always see is that attendance (dictates) the number of kids in the classroom, the quality of the teachers, the condition of facilities.”

San Martin Gwinn Elementary School Principal P.J. Foehr, who serves on the district’s student attendance review board, which aims to diagnose and fix absence problems, said pushing for good attendance is especially important during tight budget times.

“We’re all figuring out ways to get kids in school,” he said. “We put out as many different notices as we can.”

Foehr stressed that the target of these notices is just 4 percent of Morgan Hill Unified’s students.

“At my school, it’s only 25 kids that I have to work on really hard,” he said.

The main reason to push for attendance, district officials said, is academic.

“Obviously, they’re going to do better if they’re in school,” Arlene Machado, who oversees the school district’s, said.

Ann Sobrato High School Principal Debbie Padilla and Live Oak High School Principal Nick Boden could not be reached for comment by press time.

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