By Joe Thomas
Ledger Editor 

Attendance means money, learning


September 5, 2019

Flomaton Elementary School began the 2018-19 school year with 367 students enrolled. This year there are 391 students enrolled but the school has one less teacher.

Simple math should say that Flomaton Elementary School has 24 more students enrolled for the 2019-20 school year that the school should have another teacher. It doesn't work that way.

The state of Alabama allocates teacher units based on the number of students enrolled during the first 20 days after Labor Day for the next school year. It's pretty cut and dried. I've seen waivers allowed due to hurricanes and other issues, but the state pretty much stays on course with how many teacher units it will fund based on the number of students during those 20 days after Labor Day.

Flomaton Elementary School ended last year with 390 students. But they weren't there during those first 20 days.

Is it fair? Maybe not, but that's the system we work under.

Toward the end of the last school year I got with Flomaton Elementary School Principal George Brown and Flomaton High School Principal Scott Hammond and we discussed enrollment and attendance and what that means for schools in not only teaching students, but dollars.

I got back with them this week because last year they told me about the importance of those first 20 days. They also talked about the importance of students being in class the entire year.

Simply put, the state sends local boards of education the money to fund teacher units based on the Average Daily Membership during those first 20 days from the previous year. If those numbers are down, the state cuts the money.

We are fortunate in Escambia County, thanks to the people of Escambia County who supported and continue to support local tax dollars for education, that we hire more teachers than the state gives us money for.

Superintendent John Knott told me the county currently employs about 17 or 18 teachers above the state minimum. He also said that by time you run salary, health insurance, retirement and other benefits, the average teacher unit costs about $80,000 per year. Simple math tells me the local school board is spending about $144,000,000 a year to fill teacher units not funded by the state. That's a about $1.44 million for those of us that can't count all those zeros.

I'm proud to live in a county that has the local support to hire more teachers than the state pays for but there are other counties across this state that can only afford to hire the state minimum because they don't have the local tax dollars to make up the difference.

But it's not all about the money. I got the same response from Hammond and Brown earlier this week that I got last spring. Students need to go to school. Both said they don't want sick children coming to school. If they are sick, keep them at home. But we still have parents who will pull their students out of school to attend other functions, whether it's a trip to a football game, Disney World or to visit grandma. To me, that's being an irresponsible parent because you are not only cheating your child you're are cheating other children as well.

At the end of the year when state report cards come out people get upset when schools don't make A's or B's. But one of the top indicators for those report cards is attendance.

Take a child to Disney World for a week and a few trips to visit grandparents and your child is not only not learning, they are driving down school grades and money.

Think about that for a while and make sure you're your child is not only enrolled but attends school because it affects a lot more people than your child.


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