RPS Shooting Itself in the Truancy Foot

The ever helpful Ms. Lewis of RPS sent me the list of attendance officers and their assignments from 2016.

It turns out RPS had only eighteen of them to serve 47 schools and to deal with the 7,288 cases that state law required be taken to court.

For a more specific look at the problem, let’s look at the top of the list:

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The assignments appear to be designed to spread the worst parts of the load.  In each case here, for example, the attendance officer had one easier assignment and one absolute horror.  Thus, Ms. Ponton had Fairfield Court, which reported 6-absence conferences for 21%  of its students last year, and Woodville, which reported 43%.  Mr. Barnes, poor soul, had Bellevue, with too few to report, and Armstrong, with 72% (!).

These eighteen attendance officers managed to take only 226 cases to court (of the 7,288 required by law).  That’s only 12.6 cases per attendance officer (of the 405 required). 

But  it could well be those folks were focused on the 5-absence attendance plans and 6-absence conferences that are prerequisite to the 7-absence court filing.  RPS data show 10,381 students with five unexcused absences that year, which comes to 577 plans required per attendance officer, and 8,502 students with six absences, which requires 472 conferences per officer. 

On these data, we can’t tell what kind of job these attendance officers are doing.  We can tell, however, that that there are far too few of them.

The 2017 budget (pdf)  (the latest on the RPS Web page) exudes indifference to the truancy problem and to the state law on the subject.  Here, from that document, are three years’ allocations for “attendance services,” in millions of dollars:

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Notice the decrease after 2016’s lawless debacle, outlined above and earlier.

For 2017, the budget shows 43 employees in the attendance services category; the attendance officers were to be paid $17.11 per hour. 

The statute provides that “[w]here no attendance officer is appointed by the school board, the division superintendent or his designee shall act as attendance officer.”  I read that to say that the Superintendent is individually responsible for Richmond’s gross violations of the truancy law.

Perhaps RPS could spend some of the $27 million they were wasting in the instructional program in 2015 to hire many more attendance officers.