Wilkinsburg names official to halt flood of truancy

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To address the truancy rate of more than 75 percent at Wilkinsburg High School and Middle School, the Wilkinsburg school board assigned the duty of attendance officer to a district administrator.

But the administrator, Velma Parker, who held the attendance officer duties until she was reassigned by the former superintendent, said she does not have enough time to do the job in addition to her other responsibilities.

"They did not do their due diligence and they are not going to dump this on me," Ms. Parker said after Tuesday's board meeting. "There is no way this is happening."

She said she had the duties of attendance officer, the district employee who files truancy citations with the district judge, for more than eight years until October 2012, when former superintendent Archie Perrin relieved her of those duties so she could become the district's Pennsylvania information management system administrator. She is also the district's homeless liaison.

There have been no truancy citations filed in the district since Ms. Parker gave up the duties.

Consequently, last year the habitual truancy rate at the high school rose from 57.4 percent to 76.2 percent. The districtwide rate increased from 40.91 percent, the second highest in the county in 2011-12, to 47.68 percent, the highest in the county in 2012-13.

As defined by the state, a habitual truant is a student with six or more unexcused absences.

The position of attendance officer is state mandated.

At last week's workshop session, the board appeared to reject the proposal by superintendent Lee McFerren to assign the attendance duties to the home and school visitor because that employee is in the teachers union. That same motion was on the agenda at Tuesday's meeting.

But before the vote, the board went into executive session for advice from solicitor Matt Hoffman. When they returned, Mr. McFerren made the motion to assign the duties to Ms. Parker through June. Ms. Parker was immediately angered by the move.

The board voted 7-1 in favor with school director Karen Payne opposed and board president Ed Donovan absent.

Mr. McFerren said after the meeting that the solicitor told the board it could add the duties to Ms. Parker's responsibilities. The superintendent said the assignment is until the end of the year, at which time the board will reassess the situation.

Mary Niederberger: mniederberger@post-gazette.com or 412-263.1590. First Published February 25, 2014 9:22 PM

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