TASC continues to earn state funding through effectiveness

By By John Guidroz / American Press

The Truancy Assessment and Service Center (TASC) in Calcasieu Parish has largely maintained its share of state funding because

of the continued effort to keep children out of trouble and in school, a parish official said Monday.

The center — which identifies and

assists at-risk students in Kindergarten through 5th grade — could

receive up to $200,000

in state funds to pay for annual operations. Calcasieu police

jurors will consider a resolution on Thursday to approve a contract

between the TASC and the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement

that would allow the center to use the money.

Bill Sommers, assistant director of the

parish’s Juvenile Justice Services agency, said the number of referrals

by principals,

teachers or other school officials dropped from 385 in 2010, to

340 in 2012. He said Calcasieu is “lucky” to have a truancy

assessment center that has been solid since it started nearly a

decade ago.

“The (state) likes our results,” Sommers said. “Other agencies have either been cut or closed down altogether. We just rock

along, and it’s a credit to the people working there.”

The center also received a report card

score of 90 from Louisiana State University in 2012 — an increase of

nearly 18 percent

from 2011, Sommers said. The report card measures factors like how

long the center takes after receiving a referral, the time

before a child is seen and the number of student absences.

“As soon as we get a referral, we

investigate the situation,” he said. “We try to find out what’s going on

with the child.

We’ve had all kinds of things, from medical issues to some truly

truant issues that most often are parental related. It’s

disheartening to see someone sitting in a chair whose feet don’t

touch the ground and having a (truancy) officer talking to

them.”

Sommers said the report card score

improved because referrals were moved to the parish’s Multi-Agency

Resource Center, a facility

that suffered fire damage after being struck by a stolen van Aug.

12.

“Our target is ... to get to these kids before they get in trouble,” he said. “If you get to these kids early enough, you

could see a decline in delinquency rates.”

Sommers said the TASC has several outreach programs to educate parents, including a video where family court Judges Lilynn

Cutrer and Guy Bradberry remind parents of the laws regarding truant children.

Over the last five years, TASC officials have visited every elementary school and distributed water bottles with a truancy

brochure attached to them. Sommers said officials visited 32 local elementary schools last year.

Sommers said the TASC hosts several truancy workshops each year and also provides some children with school uniforms, backpacks

or other school supplies.

The Calcasieu School System and District Attorney’s Office assist with the center’s operations, Sommers said. He said the

Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement took over managing the state’s truancy centers from LSU last year.