FUSD approves hiring of consultants to track absenteeism

The Fresno BeeJune 20, 2012 

Fresno Unified trustees on Wednesday approved a contract with a Northern California consulting firm to track student absences and analyze chronic absenteeism.

The contract with School Innovations and Advocacy, an El Dorado Hills-based education consulting firm, will total $870,000 over three years and include analysis of at-risk student and attendance trend data, using the firm's Attention2Attendance software and its support services.

The contract was approved in a 4-2 vote. Trustees Michelle Asadoorian and Larry Moore voted against the measure, and trustee Tony Vang was absent.

Jeff Owens, the firm's vice president, said the work conducted by his company's consultants would provide near-immediate analysis and advice on how to improve school and district attendance.

The software is billed by the company as being able to track absences, email absence letters to parents and guardians, and identify at-risk students for early intervention.

The decision to hire outside consultants to track attendance was mostly in response to a number of recommendations by the district's Graduation Task Force, which stressed the need to ensure students are attending classes and keeping track of students who are at risk of dropping out.

Fresno Teachers Association president-elect Mai Summer Vue questioned why the district had to sign a contract with outside consultants and whether FUSD already employs people who are supposed to track attendance.

Later in the meeting, outgoing FTA president Greg Gadams poked fun of the fact that consultants would take over the tasks that have been the responsibility of Fresno Unified staffers.

"Would it be possible for you to hire a consultant to teach ESL [English as a Second Language] for me so I can focus on math and science?" asked Gadams, who is returning to the classroom after two terms as FTA president.

Following Vue's comments, three board members pressed district Chief Financial Officer Ruthie Quinto and Owens on the contract's effect on Fresno Unified's budget.

Asadoorian said that the services being pitched by School Innovations and Advocacy were supposed to be a part of the beleaguered ATLAS student data system.

"When people ask me how much ATLAS cost the district, I'll have to add $870,000 to that cost," she said to Owens.

The district's cost for hiring School Innovations and Advocacy may not be so high, Owens said, because Fresno Unified has the ability to opt out of its contract with the consulting firm.

Trustee Carol Mills wanted to ensure that the district would receive a return on its $870,000 investment through increased average daily attendance funding.

Owens said that the average daily attendance for its current clients, which include San Francisco Unified School District, have risen 0.50% to 0.75%. Quinto translated that to $2 million to $3 million annually in additional student attendance funds for Fresno Unified.

Moore was upset that the money to pay for the new consultants would come out of unrestricted funds, a source that also covers teacher salaries and classroom expenses.

School Innovations and Advocacy will begin working with Fresno Unified immediately in the hopes that it can roll out the program in six to eight weeks, Owens said.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6279, atavlian@fresnobee.com or @tavlian on Twitter.

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