Council Member objects to funding truancy program

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Concerns over a program to help students stay in school are holding up the City of Montgomery's budget.  Council Member Tracy Larkin objected to giving $100,000 in funding to the Helping Montgomery Families Initiative, which aims to reduce suspensions and truancy in the Montgomery Public Schools.

"I'm not suggesting that the Helping Montgomery Families Initiative does not provide a useful service to the community," Larkin said.   "That goes without saying, but the truancy component of this program, which just began in the last year or so, I believe is an unnecessary duplication of what's already taking place in Montgomery Public Schools."

The initiative just expanded its truancy intervention program.  It now covers Lanier High School and the schools that feed into it.

"We expect it's going to continue to have a great impact," said Barbara Thompson, MPS Superintendent.   "We're trying to implement a lot of the steps they're using throughout the district."

The initiative is run through the district attorney's office.   Ellen Brooks calls a pilot truancy program at three schools last year a "success."

"While the whole system's truancy problem increased dramatically, in two schools we were able to dramatically decrease truancy, and in the other have a very small increase," Brooks said.

Funding for the program is provided by the city, county and Montgomery Public Schools.  The additional funding would help the Initiative hire a truancy program coordinator.  That would help the staff deal with its caseload of more than 160 families.

"We're meeting with families through this process, we're doing attendance intervention programs," said Sandra Edwards, the director of the Initiative.  "We added a lot of steps to meet with families to see what their needs were."

Larkin said he expects the funding request, and the budget, to be approved when the council meets again on Tuesday.  But he and other council members plan to closely scrutinize the initiative and its results this school year.  The delay in approving the Fiscal Year 2012 budget is not expected to impact the city's operations.

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