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Detroit Schools Seek Better Fall Attendance

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DETROIT (WWJ/AP) - The deficit-plagued Detroit Public Schools has put on a big push to make sure students are at their desks when classes start to help kick off the learning process and save several million dollars in state funding.

About four dozen attendance agents and parent organizers have visited more than 2,100 homes heading into the Sept. 6 start of classes.

“We know that we have a mission-critical job to have schools, staffing and supplies at peak readiness for the first day of teaching and learning,” said Roy Roberts, state-appointed emergency financial manager.

“This year more than ever, we want to instill in our families their absolute duty to ensure that their children are in school, every day, all day, beginning the first day. Regrettably in the past, this has not been the case. We are utilizing every vehicle at our disposal to drive this message home.”

DPS lost $3.5 million in state aid for attendance that was recorded as being below the required 75 percent for the first nine days, instead producing rates as low as 51 percent. Last year, 23 schools in the district did not meet their goals for adequate yearly progress in the area of attendance alone.

About $25 million was lost over the full school year, officials said. And Detroit Schools can’t afford to squander a penny.

Detroit’s district faces a $327 million budget deficit, partly due to faltering enrollment and fewer per-pupil dollars and failing to make timely cost-cutting as times got leaner. The district ended the past school year with about 74,000 students. Only about 66,360 are budgeted for this academic year.

Over the past two years, the district’s finances have been under the control of an emergency manager appointed by Michigan’s governor.

Roberts, a former General Motors executive, has had the job since May and used a new state law to force teachers and other district employees to take 10 percent pay cuts and contribute 20 percent to health insurance as a way to cut into the deficit.

Three unions representing about 10,000 employees have filed suit in federal court to block the changes.

Twenty-three Detroit schools didn’t meet goals last year for adequate progress in attendance. Many parents typically wait until after the first week of classes to start bringing their children to school, officials said.

“Students are expected to be in school on the first day of school, attend school every day and stay in school for the entire school day,” said Karen Ridgeway, interim superintendent of academics. “Research indicates that students who attend school regularly are more likely to be successful during their school years.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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