BUFFALO, NY - One of the biggest issues facing Buffalo Public Schools is the chronic absence among students. The first week of classes is in the record books, but the district will not release attendance numbers, even while many other district have already done so.
The Buffalo School District has numbers on how many students have been chronically absent, but the numbers are for last school year, and the data isn't pretty. 23 percent of students missed between 18 and 36 days of school.
But, the district hasn't released absentee numbers for the start this school year, while other districts have. Lew Port says it had 98 percent attendance district-wide, Tonawanda and Lancaster Schools had the same, and Maryvale had 97 percent attendance.
Buffalo Schools says it doesn't have certified enrollment numbers yet, and that students continue to register for class and schools are past the first week. A district spokesperson says information technology staff are in the process of tallying the numbers.
"Our attendance improvement strategy is multi-layered, we're looking to do a lot that we haven't done in the past," said Eric Rosser of Buffalo Schools Student Services.
One change: the district now offers an attendance recognition and incentive program.
"The recognition program will recognize students who have increased good attendance throughout the school year and recognize those students who have perfect attendance quarterly as well as annually," Rosser said.
Students throughout the year can earn points that could enter them into a lottery to win prizes like a laptop or an Apple watch. Plus, the district is treating attendance similar to a get out the vote effort, placing lawn signs at schools, homes and businesses city-wide.
"That will be going up in neighborhoods where we find that there's a lot of students who are missing school," Rosser said.
And, the district is working with community leaders to get kids in school. Assembly member Crystal Peoples-Stokes said last week that if students can't get to school -- give her a call.
REPORTER: What kind of response have you gotten?
"We did have a few parents that actually called," she said, "one of them was for a charter school where the family couldn't afford the uniform. Easily solved: just made a call and now we have a uniform."
And the district does have attendance teachers, who are not only in schools, but also follow up with families at home. A new attendance policy should be written by Oct. 1. BPS attendance has improved about one percent from 2014 to 2015, so we'll see if the district can make more progress.