Albuquerque Public Schools officials say they know what it will take to tackle truancy in the district, but it won’t be easy or cheap.
Over the past two years, APS has piloted an anti-truancy program that uses school social workers to help students and families address issues that cause truancy. The program was used in 12 schools its first year and 23 schools this year.
Between this school year and last year, the anti-truancy program has cut down on unexcused absences by 13.8 percent in the 23 schools where it has been put in place, according to a report compiled by Peter Winograd, a retired University of New Mexico professor emeritus and director of special projects. Winograd volunteered his time to compile the report for APS.
“That’s impressive, that’s very impressive,” Winograd said Wednesday night as he detailed the report to the APS school board along with Kris Meurer, executive director of Albuquerque Public Schools’ Student, Family, and Community Supports Division.
That was the good news. The bad news is that expanding the program will be expensive at a time when the district is facing a budget deficit.
Meurer has proposed expanding the program from 23 schools to 90 schools over the next two years. The price tag for that expansion would be about $1.67 million, she said.
The board took no action on the issue Wednesday.
The program is expensive because it requires the district to hire additional social workers. This year, the program used eight social workers, who each worked across three schools apiece, at a cost of $481,184. The proposed expansion would require the district add 22 social workers over the next two years.
Meurer and Winograd said the social workers are vital to the program because they are equipped to help families address the many problems that cause truancy, which include domestic violence, substance abuse and poverty.
The program also relies on truancy advisers and UNM work study students who help the social workers reach out to truant students.
Interim Superintendent Brad Winter said the state has money set aside for truancy programs. The district would have to apply for that money.
APS board member Analee Maestas said the board should pursue that money even though it is “below-the-line funding.” Below-the-line funding refers to state money that goes to fund specific programs and is not distributed to school districts on a per-pupil basis – which many local school officials don’t like because it takes away from the amount of money districts receive automatically.
Habitual truancy – those students who have who had 10 or more unexcused absences in a year – jumped districtwide last school year by 6.23 percentage points to 15.56 percent.