Truancy has long been an issue that has frustrated the Oakland Unified School District, which over the years has created numerous programs and partnerships to tackle the problem.
But now, district officials say they don't know the actual financial cost of truancy to Oakland schools - additionally, key tracking records also appear to be missing from OUSD files.
Using the California Public Records Act, Oakland Local requested information about OUSD truancy, including the estimated cost to the district. In previous years, district officials have said truancy costs millions of dollars - money that otherwise would go towards educating students.
But exactly how much money OUSD is annually losing is now a mystery - at least that's the response of the district to the open records request.
"We also do not have a formula or way of accounting for the cost of truancy," Jean Wing, executive director of research, assessment and data for OUSD, wrote in an email. "It's more complex than meets the eye, since truancy is defined so broadly and can simply be a matter of being late for school, so the cost would be calculated in minutes. This is not something we have readily available."
But on the district's website, it points out that truancy has been a huge financial burden to OUSD.
"Truancy is a gateway crime that opens the door to deeper trouble," OUSD's truancy web page reads. "It also costs Oakland schools millions of dollars per year, depriving all students of programs - not just the ones that skip school."
Truancy in the past was estimated to cost OUSD $3.5 million a year, which is no small amount for a district that is functioning under a shrinking budget.
Other OUSD records regarding truancy also appear to be missing.
Wing said in the same email that OUSD does not have the number of Student Attendance Review Team meetings held by OUSD for the academic years 2006-07, 2007-08 and 2010-11. SART meetings can be conducted when a student has multiple absences and has received a Notification of Truancy letter in the mail from the district.
Wing said her office also does not know how many OUSD students are picked up for truancy.
The district did not respond to emails and telephone request for clarification about the missing records and truancy costs. Requests to interview OUSD Superintendent Tony Smith also received no response.
In recent years, OUSD has responded by stepping up its efforts to battle truancy by attacking related systemic issues including chronic absenteeism.
OUSD records on the notice of truancy letters sent to students who missed more than three days shows a decline in numbers. Last school term, 15,259 letters were sent out to students, down from previous years.