Audit finds district needs to improve attendance policies

An audit of the Katonah-Lewisboro school district’s internal controls over student and staff attendance found the district needs improvement in monitoring and responding to both its student and staff attendance.

Districtwide, the audit, which was presented at the school board meeting on Jan. 24, found that a number of practices need to be made consistent throughout all schools, including ensuring that weekly reconciliation of attendance records and absence reporting is performed and that the district take on a more systematic approach to monitoring excessive employee absences.

The audit, performed by Accume Partners, found that the district has minor weaknesses in its internal controls monitoring and responding to absenteeism with both students and staff, said Claudia Cabello Glass, senior manager for Accume.

Student attendance

For students, the audit revealed that the district needs alternative intervention programs to address a small population of chronically absent children who miss 10 or more days in a school year, as well as better recording of excused absences, particularly from the guidance and special education departments. The district’s current interventions for chronicaly absent students do little to promote positive student attendance, Ms. Cabello Glass said.

“For that population we definitely found those particular strategies the district does do do not necessarily change the behavior of the student,” she said.

One possible intervention strategy the auditors recommended is peer reviews of students who are excessively absent.

“Some students don’t respond to, ‘Oh, I have to meet with the assistant principal today,’” Ms. Cabello Glass said. “They don’t care, frankly. There are ways, instead of having just the adult supervise or respond to the bad attendance behavior of a student, you have your peers, similar to a jury of your peers,” she said.

In addition, she said, the punishment should re-engage the student with the school community rather than disengaging the student with a detention.

Staff attendance

Regarding staff, the audit specifically recommended improved consistency throughout the district for measuring staff attendance. The district should also formalize what constitutes excessive employee absences and consider negotiating changes to contracts with employee associations to encourage positive attendance and minimize the use of leave by employees, especially teaching staff, according to the audit.

Inconsistencies with staff compliance for proper procedures for submitting applications for pre-planned absences were also found. This was a particular concern considering the known effects of teacher absence on student achievement, Ms. Cabello Glass said.

As with student attendance, the audit recommended improved intervention and accountability measures for the chronically absent.

“We recommend the district consider implementing basically a memo to employees during an occurrence of an unreported absence, and this recommendation is basically to improve employee accountability in the process, to give the employee a heads-up and say, ‘Listen, this happened, can you explain what happened,’ and then respond accordingly,”’ Ms. Cabello Glass said.

Attendance and technology

After the presentation, board member Dr. Peter Treyz asked whether technology could help solve the district’s attendance deficiencies. Citing the cost of personnel to monitor and respond to attendance issues, he wondered if there was a more automatic, electronic solution, such as badges that staff and students could wear.

“The monitoring piece is there,” Ms. Cabello Glass said. “It is more the responses and actions that take place.”

David Moran, director of education practice with Accume, cautioned that while such technology was available, the cost and rate of technological development can outpace its effectiveness.

“Remember, the pioneers are the ones with the arrows in their backs,” he said.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Paul Kreutzer said he would look into the possibility of electronic monitoring as part of a larger discussion focused on school safety.

“To what degree they are effective, to what degree they are cost-effective and to what degree they are big-brotherish, we will need to have all those types of conversations,” he said. “I may be able to satisfy some of your concerns on that as we talk with security companies, because those are more from a security basis.”

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