Pulaski superintendent weighs in on attendance drop

Jan. 19—Saying local schools have been through a lot in the last few years would be putting it mildly. While the difficulties of returning to school following the pandemic have been surmounted in several different aspects, one problem that Somerset-Pulaski County schools are seeing upon return to in-person learning is attendance.

Pulaski County superintendent Pat Richardson said that pre-COVID attendance rate was around 94-96%, depending on the time of the year. This year, attendance rates have dropped somewhere around 91-92%.

"It cuts into our funding. We get funding as a school district from average daily attendance, and that's the money we get from the state," said Richardson in an interview with the Commonwealth Journal. "So when we have low attendance days... our funding for what we're able to pay teachers and buy school buses and buy supplies, that money comes from our daily attendance."

Richardson said that attendance rates could be a future problem if they don't rise back to pre-COVID levels. Fewer students making it to school means fewer dollars from the state.

"To be honest... I really don't know why we're seeing that. I think it comes back to the importance that people are putting on education," said Richardson.

Richardson pointed to possible causes like the mindset parents and students had during COVID. If someone feels sick, they stay home. While Richardson says this is a good attitude to have to some extent, he feels it possible that some parents overestimate the severity of their child's symptoms and keep them home despite not really needing to.

Said Richardson "I think we made it easy for people to stay at home. We made allowances for them to miss school because of the issues that the pandemic brought on. I think those issues together just sort of changed the mindset of people for that two-year period that now we're trying to have to retrain folks to put that thought process behind them and back to treating school as an important part of kids' lives and making sure that kids are in school as many days as possible. We don't want kids to come to school sick, and if you have a kid that's running a fever or is having a major sickness, we don't want them at school. We got to where you have a stuffy nose you stay home, and that in itself has contributed a lot to our issues."

However, Richardson noted that the 91-92% figure is actually outdated. As the school year has continued, that number has come up a bit to 93-94%. While not where it used to be, Richardson called this positive trend a bit out-of-character for typical attendance numbers.

Richardson said that it's common for attendance numbers to drop in the winter months. As cold and flu season starts up, the number of students staying at home to nurse illnesses increases. However, this year marks an "odd" turn in the trend as attendance actually has risen during the winter months.

"I don't know if it's just people like 'hey we're back to regular school now,' and it just took them a few months to get into that? Because really our COVID numbers in the community have not changed that much. At the first of the year, I didn't really see an impact because of anything specific like any type of illness like COVID or anything like that. So I don't know, I just find it odd that our attendance is starting to go back even though we're entering the beginning of the flu season," said Richardson.

Despite concern among faculty members and the effect the attendance drop will have on the budget, Richardson feels it's far too early for Pulaski County citizens to worry. Richardson said that he expects the numbers to continue to climb and feels that a bright future for the Pulaski County school district is just around the corner.