"Not only are many classes not fully enrolled, but rampant student absenteeism leaves many high school classrooms sparsely populated on any given day, according to the consultants, who were hired by Say Yes to Education. “Very few of the high school classes we went into had more than nine students,” Scott Joftus, one of the consultants, said during a meeting with The Buffalo News Editorial Board.His firm, Cross & Joftus, sent observation teams into 195 classrooms throughout the district last spring. The five-minute observations were used to analyze systemic issues, he said, not to evaluate individual teachers."These observers overlooked the attendance offices in the high schools that would have helped them to understand the "sparsely populated classrooms" and the absenteeism problem in the Buffalo Public Schools.
The district laid -off fifteen attendance officers on August 2005, while plans to replace them were inadequate or nonexistent. Thus, schools were left without a means of enforcing the New York State Compulsory Education laws and students did not benefit from a public school education. This district-wide educational neglect contributed to the culture of absenteeism studied by consultants and cited in numerous reports.
Thus, for a period of six years from September 2005 through June 2011, the Buffalo Public Schools operated with only two attendance attendance officers. This was not an adequate number of officers to respond to 37,000 students in the district during this period.
In January 2011, three attendance officers were recalled to work in three high schools through the School Improvement Grant (SIG). Subsequently, seven attendance officers were recalled on September 2011.
There are now 12 attendance officers, still not an adequate number to respond to the culture of absenteeism that had developed during the six year period from 2005 through 2011 in the district after the district laid off these officers.
Compounding this problem is the lack of an administrative infrastructure in Central Office in City Hall to handle attendance.
For example, there existed an Attendance Department in Central Office, but it disappeared about 2002, followed by district officials pulling out all the attendance officers from the schools, warehousing them in the old Kensington High School building that no longer had any students except a small program for suspended students.
And three years later, the Buffalo Board of Education voted to lay off the attendance officers in 2005 over a dispute about health care benefits with the Buffalo Teachers Federation during contract negotiations.
Former Superintendent James Williams threatened to lay off a group of teachers and administrators if the unions didn't accept the single health carrier insurance instead of the multiple plans the contract offered. Williams continued to stall hiring back the teachers until the school board voted to recall the attendance officers after allocating $500,000 in the school budget.
Meanwhile student absenteeism was rampant and academic achievement the lowest ever in the district coupled with the ever growing number of Buffalo Public Schools on the NYS list of persistently lowest achieving schools.
And so began the lay off of 15 attendance officers in 2005, and the growth of the culture of absenteeism in the Buffalo Public Schools.
Today, attendance offices in the high schools are under-staffed and not operating at the levels they had been in the past before the attendance officers were laid off. There are some high schools that still don't have fully functioning attendance offices. And it's a struggle for an attendance officer to develop the infrastructure while overwhelmed at the same time with combating absenteeism and truancy.
The district hired a national attendance consultant in 2010-2011, Hedy Chang, while the Buffalo Teachers Federation produced their own attendance studies during this period.
So why is absenteeism still a problem? What have we learned from the consultants and the studies? Why the district not hiring more attendance officers, and why is it not adequately supporting the attendance offices in the high schools?
We have been inundated with costly reports many collecting dust in some desk drawer in Central Office. Yet, what have we learned and how is the data used to inform decisions?