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At Central Elementary in City Heights, kindergartners and first-graders lead the absentee parade. They make up most of those who miss school most often.

Now, a new pilot program at Central and two other schools is aiming to figure out what’s keeping these kids off track. A team monitors each kid who’s having trouble making it to class and figures out what to do. “That could mean something as simple as a phone call or finding students rides to school — or something more complex, like referring the family to an agency that could help them land housing,” writes VOSD reporter Mario Koran.

The whole idea is to create an early warning system to help kids in need and make sure they graduate several years down the line.

Commentary: For Firefighters, Half Isn’t Half

In a new VOSD commentary, Alan Arrollado, president of San Diego City Fire Fighters Local 145, takes on the idea that the city could get by with smaller fire crews. A new report looks at the sizes of geographic areas in the city and confused that “half-districts could be served by half-engines,” he writes. “The problem is that these districts don’t have half-emergencies.”

Arrollado also critiques a new pilot two-person-squad program in Encanto: “This experiment is costing the city about $600,000 a year, about half the personnel expense of a four-person engine. But Squad 55 is only staffed 12 hours a day. So, the city is paying half-price for quarter-service.”

For Rich, the Water Supply Never Ends

As the New York Times reports, residents in the wealthy enclave of Rancho Santa Fe and surrounding areas use more water per person than anywhere else in the state — 584 gallons per person per day.

“As people in low-income corners of the San Joaquin Valley cope with dry taps and toilets they cannot flush, life has continued almost exactly as before in much of California, where the water supply still seems endless,” the Times reports (with an assist from VOSD’s Liam Dillon). No kidding: Rancho Santa Fe-area residents have barely cut their use.

“It’s an affluent community,” says one resident. “People have gardeners, and they just don’t pay attention. They don’t clean their own houses. That’s the way it is here.”

Concrete Limbo at the Border

The New York Times visits “El Border,” the infamous concrete canal just south of the border in Tijuana, where people live in “hovels, lean-tos and simply on the pavement.” It’s “a catch basin for the drug addicted and the deported, sometimes both,” even as Tijuana itself boasts that it’s moved past its horrific 2000s.

“Home is here,” says a man in his 40s who tells the Times that the canal is an alternative to shelters that cost $2 a night. “The only thing that gets us out is water. When it rains we grab what we can and run. And then, here we are again.”

• KPBS checks in on Mexico’s new taxes on sugary drinks and high-calorie foods like sweets. A researcher says people have cut down on the foods, possibly replacing them with healthier alternatives like bottled water.

What Southwest Airlines Has Wrought

A San Francisco Chronicle contributor likes the idea of a high-speed rail line connecting the state because he thinks Southwest Airlines has gone to pot: “the formerly idiosyncratic airline is becoming more like its dysfunctional competitors.”

The writer is upset because of a bad experience regarding a cancelled flight and the airline’s refusal to cover a rental car or give him compensation for the time he’d lose. Southwest, which has expanded in San Diego this year,  actually has expanding satisfaction marks from J.D. Power.

Quick News Hits: Purple County

• A story about a crucial missing detail in a potential Belmont Park lease is leading our hit parade: It got the most views on our site last week. The full Top 10 list is here.

• The U.S. has about 3,000 counties, but only 128 of them — including San Diego — fit into an unusual category: They voted for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, but supported President Obama in 2008 and 2012. A political website calls them “purple,” the U-T reports.

You can now lease-to-own a dog, at least at a couple local pet stores. Your dog could, in fact, be repossessed. (U-T)

• A local man’s televised rant against Ferguson protesters blocking him from getting to work on I-5 has drawn him support and cash. (U-T)

• Wet stuff is coming our way Tuesday, and the U-T promises in a headline that it will be a “juicy storm.” Sweet! Maybe the skies will take the Pineapple Express literally?

Randy Dotinga is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego and president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. Please contact him directly at randydotinga@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/rdotinga.

Randy Dotinga

Randy Dotinga is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego. Please contact him directly at randydotinga@gmail.com...

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