“The Central Trend,” the student voice of Forest Hills Central High School, recently published an article about understanding count day and how, more specifically, FHC and the district receives money based on the number of students. But it is not as simple as counting heads in a school on a particular day, as Linus Kaechele, FHC student reporter, reported after talking with the school’s registrar, Keyla Acevedo-Hargis, who is responsible for documenting student attendance on a daily basis. Here is a copy of the article by Kaechele reprinted in its entirety below. To learn more about school funding, view the videos on the FHPS website linked here.
With stellar academics, renowned sports teams, and exceptional fine arts programs, the Forest Hills Public Schools District is constantly supporting its students in multiple ways. Without a doubt, this care and attention forwarded to students develops a hefty receipt, which draws much attention to a certain question: how does Forest Hills get its funding?
Like all school districts in Michigan, Forest Hills’ funding comes from a widely-used system known as Count Day; however, according to Forest Hills Central High School’s Registrar Keyla Acevedo-Hargis, this event’s title is rather misleading.
“One [misconception about Count Day] is that we go around counting kids,” Acevedo-Hargis said. “We don’t; we don’t count the kids.”
Rather than each teacher placing a number on the head of each student in each class in each hour, students are ‘counted’ in a different way. No different than any day of the school year, on Count Day, teachers take attendance in each class period and report it to the attendance office where the total number of students in school is recorded.
Once this number is figured, the attendance information is sent to the state where it is calculated and reported, thus leading to the funding sent to the Forest Hills District. Though this process may seem easy, there is a significant amount of behind-the-scenes work done by the teachers, attendance office, and administrative staff to make sure that each student is accounted for.
This extra work most often comes in the form of paperwork, which can pile up as more students are marked absent on Count Day. Each absent student on count day requires extra work that has to be filled out. For teacher Joseph Smith, the recording of students on Count Day especially proves its difficulties.
“If a student is not present on Count Day and doesn’t somehow even virtually engage with that class on that day, I have to fill out paperwork for four weeks that show that there’s two-way communication between myself and that student,” Smith said. “So, there’s a lot of paperwork for me if students don’t show up to class on Count Day.”
Though, if a student is absent on Count Day, they aren’t cast off as irrelevant by the school. Even if a student does not show up for school on Count Day, there is still a way for their attendance to be proven to the state.
“There are many puzzles and pieces when it comes to the funding for the schools,” Acevedo-Hargis explained, “we do get a little wiggle room. If a student is absent on Count Day, we try to make sure that they’re excused or were accounted for.”
This ‘wiggle room’ is quantified as a ten-day time span; as long as each student is marked excused or returns to school within the ten days following Count Day, the state will recognize their attendance and involvement in the school and provide funding accordingly.
While the Forest Hills School District has a relatively admirable attendance rate, teachers who have worked in other districts notice the difference in the impact that Count Day has on the district. Teacher Rose Whalen’s time teaching in Detroit gives her a broader look on Count Day and how differently it works in Forest Hills.
“When I taught in Detroit, I would have forty-five kids on my class list and see ten [on average],” Whalen said. “There’d be the same twenty I never saw. If you’re not here, and then we give the attendance to the state, you don’t count in our attendance, which makes sense.”
This year, Count Day falls on February 12th: a predetermined date sent to all schools in advance. By letting Michigan school districts know what date Count Day falls on, it’s much easier for the administrative staff to ensure that all students will be within school walls. For this reason, field trips and other activities never take place on Count Day.
Though the date is given in advance and allows for preparation, not all administrators and teachers agree that Count Day is the most efficient or just way of calculating funding.
“I don’t know that I’d say that [Count Day] is efficient,” Smith said, “but I don’t know that I’d say I’ve thought about a different way to do it.”
Whalen agrees with Smith, believing that attendance is not a tell-tale sign of merit for funding.
“I don’t know that I have a positive outlook on anything,” Whalen said, “but I feel like some districts need more money than others, and it shouldn’t be based on attendance or the number of students.”
Despite disagreement over the allocation of funding that Count Day allows for, Acevedo-Hargis understands the existence of Count Day is crucial for the continued operation of the Forest Hills Public Schools District. As registrar, she plays one of the most vital roles in Count Day and has a valued opinion on what works and what doesn’t when it comes to funding.
“Collecting the [attendance] data on one day is probably the best way to determine [funding],” Acevedo-Hargis said. “I can’t think of any other way to collect this information for the state.”