Archive for Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Truancy program money questions persist

County, public school districts differ over who pays for program

September 12, 2007

Leavenworth County and public school superintendents in the county continue to bicker over how to pay for continuation of a truancy-reduction program.

County commissioners on Thursday met with Juvenile Services Director Bob Doyle to discuss future funding for the program, which has served 251 truant students countywide in its first two years of operation.

The program has been funded by a federal Title V grant and subsidized by matching funds from the county. The third and final year of the grant begins in October.

Doyle said the amount needed for the 2007-2008 school year is $45,300, but it has yet to be determined who will supply these funds -- the county or the five area school districts involved in the program.

Doyle told commissioners he was awaiting response from all but one of the five school superintendents after the commission sent letters dated May 17 and Aug. 1 requesting "that the districts take over the cost to maintain the program."

He submitted a breakdown of what each school district's share of the cost would be based on enrollment population and usage if the school district picked up all of the cost for the 2007-2008 school year.

The Lansing school district, which has had the highest usage with 90 students involved in the program since 2005, would be responsible for $16,308 of the total cost. Basehor-Linwood USD 458 would pay $9,966; Easton USD 449 would pay $9,060; Tonganoxie USD 464 would pay $6,795 and Leavenworth USD 453, which has a full-time truancy officer and only refers a handful of students to the program each year, would pay $3,171.

Despite requests for payment, the commissioners and local superintendents still disagreed on who was actually responsible for the program.

"The legal responsibility lies with the schools and the school boards," Commissioner Clyde Graeber said. "It's not our (the county's) problem."

Contacted Monday, Lansing Superintendent Randal Bagby said, "There is no statutory authority for school districts to do that. ... By statute, the county is the one responsible for truancy issues."

According to Kansas state statute, schools are required to inform the courts when a student has had six or more unexcused absences, Doyle said.

Pointing to statistics on the truancy reduction program, Doyle said it has led to a 97 percent increase in homework completion and a dramatic decline in excused and unexcused absences. Judges have voiced their support for the program, which helps to hold down the expensive costs of adjudication or incarceration, he added.

In a May 17 meeting, Doyle explained that the program he crafted is more preventative than punitive.

"(It's) for students and their families," he said. "And I think it's valid enough to be carried on."

Graeber agreed the program was "absolutely outstanding."

"It is something to really be proud of," he said. "That's why I don't understand why the school boards won't do what's mandated, apparently, by state law."

Tellefson emphasized the school districts' capability of paying for the program.

"We got beat up for our (the county's) mill levy," Tellefson added. "Our mill levy's at 28; some of the school district's are at 48, 53 mills."

Bagby, the Lansing superintendent, acknowledged the Juvenile Services program was valid and contributes positively to area school districts.

"They do good work. ... If we could find the money, it should be carried on or added to," he said. But he added, "There's lots of good causes to throw money at out there, but our budget's pretty tight and is governed by statutes."

Bagby said, with the truancy program, "We'd have to do something cooperatively."

Tellefson acknowledged the county had some responsibility to continue its commitment to the program.

"When it is to the benefit of our community, it's partially our responsibility," Tellefson said. "I'm willing to contribute to this endeavor, but ... (the school districts lack of response) tells me that they don't really care about it at all."

Doyle said he would continue to pursue funding for the truancy reduction meeting at a superintendents meeting scheduled for later this month.

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