Tallapoosa County Schools is crossing its fingers for an attendance bounce back this school year as it sets its budget for the 2022 financial year.
With state funding allocations based on the previous year’s "average daily membership" — average attendance on the first 20 days after Labor Day — Tallapoosa County Schools' official budget count is down 92 students this year, due to the decline in attendance last year. District-wide, an average of 2,684.55 students attended class last fall, CSFO Tommy Thweatt told school board members at the first budget review Thursday, down from 2,776.7 the previous year.
Tallapoosa County Schools is not alone — Alabama public school attendance was down 8,356 kids year-on-year, Thweatt said
Normally, such a decline would cost the school system about five classrooms' worth of funding, but the state has made an exception this year due to the pandemic — any teaching units lost will be made up in stabilization funds.
Thweatt also said he expects average attendance through Friday, Oct. 2 to make up some of that loss.
"I know two of my babies are going to Reeltown Elementary and they stayed home last year," he said. "So, we're getting those two back anyway."
As for actual enrollment this year, the number is back above 2,700, Tallapoosa County Schools superintendent Ray Porter said, which he expects will return to pre-pandemic levels by fall 2022.
But while some students have re-enrolled, "most all children that we've lost, it's because they decided to homeschool and not all of them are in good programs," Porter told school board members.
Intervention can be difficult. Tallapoosa County Schools conducts state-required exit interviews with students who withdraw — "if they come to us to withdraw," deputy superintendent Casey Davis said, "a lot of times, the reason they're leaving they don't want to talk to us anyway."
Instead, the school system will get a letter from the homeschooling program in the mail, after the student has already left.
Tallapoosa County Schools will hold its second public budget hearing Monday at 5 p.m.