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TASC continues to earn state funding through effectiveness

Last Modified: Tuesday, September 17, 2013 10:04 AM

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.

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