Manatee County leaders discuss truancy issues and solutions

eearl@bradenton.comSeptember 21, 2013 

MANATEE -- Superintendent of Manatee County Schools Rick Mills told county leaders at a CEO Rountable meeting Friday that they need better collaboration to improve resources for troubled students.

He offered a model from Minnesota that he suggested local leadership adopt in an effort to stop truancy and to increase efforts around dropout prevention.

But roundtable member Sheriff Brad Steube said Mills' Minnesota model may be a "reinvention of the wheel."

Steube said Mike McCann already directs the school district's dropout prevention programs; in addition, the county has a Juvenile Assessment Center. The Manatee County Sheriff's Office also assists in investigations with county and state probation officers twice a month to make sure students with mandated curfews are in compliance.

"The juvenile justice center has been meeting for about one year over the same issues," Steube said. And by all accounts they have had success.

Attendance in the 2012-13 school year was 94.29 percent, up from 92.49 percent

in the 2010-11 school year. The truancy rate in Manatee County was 2.6 percent in the 2012-13 school year, according to McCann.

But Mills said he wants to improve Manatee County's model.

Mills, along with the school district's director of planning and performance Robert Johnson, suggested an official charter for the CEO Roundtable with specific roles and responsibilities to the roundtable members. The charter is based on a collaboration in Minnesota called the joint powers agreement.

The joint powers agreement in Hennepin County, Minnesota, included a youth support center, which contacted parents and schools on issues such as truancy, curfew and mental and emotional health.

Mills said the funding for the joint powers agreement in Hennepin County came from contributions from each agency involved. The program's annual budget was $750,000. Johnson said the cost in Manatee County would be contingent on how many students would be served and what services were offered.

Even if the roundtable charter he is proposing is not identical to Minnesota's, Mills said it would help improve services.

"What are we doing around identifying problems of why youth may be truant?" Mills asked. "How are we looking at data in general to identify patterns?"

Mills said the roundtable needs an overview of the services agencies are offering to students now.

Steube said much of what Mills suggested was redundant.

"I'm not sure that it needs to be under one umbrella from the standpoint of knowing what everyone else is doing," Steube said. "I'm going to be open and frank. When we drop a student off to McCann, we don't care what happens afterwards. We're done."

Steube said the same is true for the youths they take to the Manatee Glens.

"It is the Glens' responsibility to provide the services, just like it is the school's responsibility," Steube said. "I don't want to sound cold, but each agency has its own duties and responsibilities."

Mills disagreed.

"Many services they may need are outside of the school district," Mills said.

Roundtable member Jennifer Bencie-Fairburn, the director of the Manatee County Health Department, said the charter for the roundtable could allow easier sharing of student data among agencies.

"There are silos of student data, in law enforcement and the health department," Bencie-Fairburn said. "An idea would be for that to be interchangeable."

Mills said the charter would make sharing data easier, but would aim to look at general data rather than individual data.

Under state law, a student's education records can be shared with the Department of Juvenile Justice and law enforcement authorities to help reduce juvenile crime.

The statute says that sharing appropriate information is a joint effort to improve school safety and to reduce truancy and in-school and out-of-school suspensions.

CEO Roundtable member State Attorney Ed Brodsky said the roundtable meeting led to a good discussion. Whether the team will adopt Mills' charter idea is still under consideration.

"The biggest thing it showed was a lack of sharing of data between organizations," Brodsky said.

For the next meeting Oct. 7, the roundtable plans to bring in McCann, a school resource supervisor, and a representative from the Department of Juvenile Justice to explain each agency's role in working with youths.

"I would like to learn what everyone is doing," Mills said.

Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081

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