December 12, 2012


City schools’ dropout, attendance rates improve

8 students dropped out in first 10 weeks of school compared to 12 last year over same period

Staff Reporter

Dropout and attendance rates at Cortland city schools are improving and students are passing their subjects at rates consistent with previous years — or better in some subjects.
Attendance rates for the high school seniors have improved over one year ago for the first academic quarter, said Gregory Santoro, Cortland Junior-Senior High School executive principal.
The district looks at two measures of attendance for students to do well in school: 85 percent and 90 percent.
The seniors’ attendance rose by about 10 percent in both categories, as 84 percent were in school 85 percent of the time and 73 percent were in school 90 percent of the time.
The dropout rate is lower than a year ago, with eight students dropping out compared to 12 for each first quarter of the previous three school years.
One quarter covers 10 weeks. Santoro and Lisa Kaup, Virgil Elementary School principal, presented the quarterly report Tuesday to the city Board of Education.
Santoro said the dropout rate is always unpredictable and can change every day.
Board Vice President John Natoli asked if the dropout rate is highest in the first quarter. Santoro said yes.
Superintendent of Schools Michael Hoose said many students who are thinking about dropping out do so early in the school year, after they see slim odds of passing their courses.
The passing rate for social studies improved for seventh and eighth grades this quarter over five years ago, from 93 percent to 98 percent for the seventh grade and from 85 percent to 94 percent for the eighth grade.
The failure rates remain a concern, Santoro said, with 13 percent of seventh-graders and 28 percent of eighth-graders failing at least one course.
The high school rates were better, with 20 percent of ninth-graders failing at least one course, an improvement from 34 percent in 2008-09.
Kaup said attendance and passing rates for elementary grades are about the same as previous years.
Hoose also reported revenue figures for the district’s school lunch program, based on information gathered by Director of Business Services Susan Bridenbecker, after board members asked about it at a previous meeting.
The district receives $1.1 million in revenue from sale of meals that can be reimbursed by the federal government, for an average of $2.36 per meal. Food for the lunches costs 90 cents per meal.
The revenue figure does not include a la carte lunches or food sold from vending machines, Hoose said.
Food accounts for 38 percent of the lunch program’s total costs, or roughly $500,000 out of the $1.4 million budget. Much of the other 62 percent is used to pay employee salaries.
Hoose said total food sales in the district are $1.3 million.
The board unanimously approved a corrective action plan for district financial operations, prepared by Bridenbecker after external auditor Raymond Wager discussed his suggestions with the board last month.
The plan lists 20 changes to accounting or reporting of budget lines, use of reserve funds and separation of staff duties.
Hoose said the changes were made because Wager suggested them or because Bridenbecker wanted them. Appointed in August, Bridenbecker is the fourth director of business services in the district in the past year, after Art Martignetti retired and two interim directors served for much of 2012.
The board had a moment of silence for James Van Nortwick Sr., the director of pupil services for the junior and senior high schools from 1966 until 1991, who died on Dec. 5 at age 83.


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