DeLand-Weldon administrators say a new absentee policy is improving attendance, but some school board members wonder if it is too strict.

Joshua Shofner admits he “did originally support” the new policy that allows no more than five non-doctor excused absences per semester without an overall class grade being dropped 2 percent.

But he said it was a rude awakening when he found out family trips counted toward the five day limit.

“From a global perspective, five days seems kind of thin for a semester. I know when my daughter gets sick, it’s three days. And especially if we’re encouraging them not to come to school for 24 hours,” said Shofner at the Sept. 24 school board meeting.

“While this policy may encourage students who are under-performing to come to school, it can be a form of punishment for those who are performing. For them it (grades) can only go down, even if they’re performing as expected,” he added.

Fellow board member Paige Trimble said she has heard similar concerns related to trips, which the handbook gives tacit approval to if they are pre-arranged with teachers.

But Superintendent Amanda Geary said the policy – which started in January – seems to be working.

“We got input from our teachers today, and we have seen an increase of kids coming to school since we have enforced this. It has helped us. So that is one positive,” she said.

Geary added it is also a balancing act to please the state when it comes to chronically truant pupils. If a student has unexcused absences totaling more than 5 percent of the total school days, or about nine days, they are considered chronically truant. Missing 10 percent for any reason, about 17 days, is considered chronic absenteeism by the state.

“That’s something everyone has to understand. That’s the battle administration fights every year,” said Geary.

Shofner felt that making it at least 10 days per year at DeLand-Weldon instead of five per semester would be a good start. He and others were also open to increasing that amount. The issue of excusing pre-arranged trips also appears to be on the table.

Geary said there was no perfect number, but says administrators want the unexcused absence limit to be a low enough amount to give “wiggle room” between the 10 allowed by the district and the limit of 17 from the state, the latter of which includes sick days and trips, even if they end up being excused.

The superintendent said she would gather more data for further discussion at the board level in November.

Budget

The school board held its mandatory hearing on the 2019-20 school year budget, then approved it unanimously. Geary said it is similar to previous years, except that the summer construction project put the Operations and Maintenance budget out of whack.

“The reason behind that is because we received the bond proceeds last fiscal year, but budgeted them in this fiscal year,” added Geary.

Taking the $4.3 million in upgrades out of the budget shows it with about $4.2 million in revenues and around $3.9 million in expense. It projects $3.9 million in overall fund balances remaining at the end of the fiscal year on June 30 of 2021.

Except for a small parking lot fix and punch list items, the summer’s million construction project is complete. One area of the parking lot saw water ponding, so contractors will come back to fix that. School signs for the secure vestibules are on order, and some metal posts need to be covered.

In other action, the board:

–heard from Geary that 56 students took part in Hearts for Life heart screenings, the first time that had been done at the school. She expects to host screenings every two years;

–was told the school took part in “Start With Hello Week,” part of the Sandy Hook Promise;

–performed a mandatory review of the district bullying policy, and voted to keep it with no changes;

–hired Corey Brubaker as volunteer assistant high school boys basketball coach, pending a background check; and

–tabled a decision on the possible purchase of a digital sign to replace the current non-digital sign near Route 10.

Cost for the digital replacement would be around $14,500. The sign would likely be 4 by 8 feet, double sided, with the changing displays being managed from the inside the building.