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Commissioners may fund school liaison program after all

May 14, 2001

Commissioners may fund school liaison program after all



By TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Students and families at eight Washington County elementary schools will see the School Family Liaison Program saved if the Washington County Commissioners reverse themselves and agree to fund a $26,000 increase for the program, Commissioners Vice President Paul Swartz said Sunday.

The commissioners had proposed not funding the requested increase in the county's $129 million general fund budget for the year that begins July 1.

But Swartz said Sunday that there is a "very good chance" the Department of Social Services will receive the requested increase for the program.

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"It's apparent to me that some things we cannot allow to go unfunded," Swartz said. "Basically, this would be one of them."

The commissioners expect to vote on the budget Tuesday. Commissioners President Greg Snook earlier had said it was possible that the program would receive at least some of the $26,000 increase request.

"There is a chance to either add some or all of that money into the budget," Snook said.

Snook said the commissioners will discuss the request, as well as other budget items, before they take a final vote.

The School Family Liaison Program's goal is to help families and children develop solutions to school-related problems. Low attendance, tardiness, behavior and academic difficulties are the areas targeted by the program. The program was initiated in 1994 as a collaborative effort between the Department of Social Services and the Washington County Board of Education.

The county has been contributing $38,960 a year toward the program. The Department of Social Services has requested that the commissioners increase the allocation to $65,100 for next year.

Fran Shaffer, family services program manager with the Department of Social Services, said the department will not have enough money to run the program in all of the county's 25 elementary schools without the increase.

The eight schools that would lose the program are: Smithsburg, Funkstown, Fountain Rock, Clear Spring, Sharpsburg, Cascade, Hickory and Paramount elementary schools.

"The costs have gone up to run the program," Shaffer said.

Shaffer said the schools were chosen based on the number of referrals the program receives. The eight schools selected had the least number of referrals.

The liaison coordinates conferences with families and school officials, works with the school guidance counselor to encourage children to strengthen organizational and time management skills and coordinates behavior plans with the schools so that reinforcements and consequences are consistent at home and school, officials said.

To promote better school attendance, the liaison also works with families to develop a structured morning routine and addresses absences caused by health issues by linking families with health-care providers and support groups.

The Washington County Board of Education said it would help fund the request if it could afford it.

"If we had additional funding, we would be glad to help because the program provides direct support to students and families," said John Festerman, the board's director of elementary education.

Festerman and Martha Roulette, the board's director of student services, said they support the program.

They also said the program is preventative, in that it includes students who are at risk for failure. They said that data the program tracks shows its success and that principals support the program.

Before Swartz indicated that the program may be fully funded, Karl Weissenbach, chairman of the Cascade Committee, said "the county commissioners are making a mistake to cut the program that is not only beneficial to our community but to communities elsewhere in the county.

"I believe that cutting funding for this position would hurt those who need it most - our children," Weissenbach said. "The Cascade Committee will oppose any attempt to not fund this very worthwhile program."

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