This article originally ran in the Feb. 11 issue of Progress Times.
When Mission CISD designed the $189.3 million budget for the 2021-2022 school year, they did so with a 13,822 average daily attendance in mind. But as the district closes out its 4th Six Weeks, administrators have calculated a lower ADA than they projected.
Through the first three marking periods or Six Weeks periods, MCISD’s ADA registered at 11,678, which could pose a problem for the budget next year.
In Texas, attendance is linked to funding. Schools lose state funding each time a student is absent. So a lower average daily attendance means less funding from the state government. Less funding means reallocating monies, postponing projects and, in more extreme cases, cuts to programs, pay and staffing. It is also important to note that enrollment is different from attendance.
School districts base ADA for the upcoming school year on numbers from the previous school year, which is one of the elements that calculates the budget. Mission CISD’s lower ADA will not affect the budget for the current school year, but the district finance division is already looking at how the dip in attendance will affect the 2022-2023 budget.
Assistant Superintendent for Finance Joel Garcia presented the attendance trends for the year at the Feb. 2 board of trustees workshop.
“One of the things that has impacted our enrollment and attendance has been the impact of COVID,” Garcia said. “And if we look at the data from the county, back in August of 2021, we noticed that there was a large surge in cases due to the Delta variant. We thought the pandemic, the situation was getting better, and it actually got a lot worse right around that time.”
The Texas Education Agency had few virtual learning options for Texas schools until Governor Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 15 in September 2021. With this bill, 10 percent of a district’s total enrollment could participate in remote instruction if they met specific criteria set by legislators. Students enrolled in virtual learning programs still count toward ADA funding.
As of Feb. 2, MCISD has about 13,000 students that count toward full ADA, but some students in the district only count for half ADA based on their membership code.
Through the first four weeks of marking period four, the attendance percentage was 74.39, “which is super low,” Garcia said. And based on the preliminary attendance data, administration projects a lower average attendance percentage for the whole second semester, compared to the actual attendance percentage in the 1st Six Weeks, which was 89 percent.
“At the start of the year, the enrollment was low. And then I guess as the community gained some more confidence in all the different initiatives that the district was taking to improve the safety of the staff and the students, the enrollment started to trend upward,” the assistant superintendent for finance said. “That said, there were periods of time where the attendance, even though the enrollment was a little higher, the attendance went down. And we saw that after Christmas when Omicron crept up.”
So far, the district has had a maximum attendance of 92 percent. Before the pandemic, Mission CISD would have a max attendance of around 96 to 97 percent, Garcia said. The minimum attendance for the year is 68 percent, which occurred in January after students came back from winter break.
Part of the reason for the low attendance percentage is because Mission CISD requires students to quarantine if someone in the household is sick, even if the students themselves are not ill. Not all districts in the area chose to implement this strategy, but Superintendent Dr. Carol Perez said MCISD follows this method to help stop the spread of the virus.
“In looking at the statistics of the Mission area being the highest in the county, we had to be very conservative and follow the regulations and guidelines from the Hidalgo County health authority,” she said.
The city of Mission has consistently held the top spot for the number of reported COVID-positive cases in Hidalgo County. As of Feb. 9, 34.7 percent of the Mission population has been infected with the COVID-19 virus, totaling 29,453 cases, according to the Hidalgo County Health and Human Services data map.
With the uncertainty of how the rest of the year will play out, Mission CISD administrators said it is difficult to provide a reliable state financial aid projection. Perez said she is also concerned about spring break and the possibility of another COVID surge following the holiday.
In the meantime, district leaders have several strategies to help determine the next steps in the months to come. The team will review expenditures, including payroll data to project expenses through the end of the fiscal year. They will continue to work with attendance resource officers to maximize enrollment and ADA and streamline processes related to remote instruction and the flexible school day program.
Short term, the plan is to review funds from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief grants the federal government provided for pandemic aid. But long term, administration plans to update staffing allocations and optimize federal funding.
“It didn’t come with a manual. All these guidelines didn’t come with a manual,” the superintendent said. “Virtual instruction, remote conferencing — we had to develop systems, we had to develop software and recruit teachers and set up all these systems. Now we’re getting much better…at making sure the children don’t miss a day of instruction. We’re getting better at our systems.”