County, BCISD believe partnership can decrease truancy

By Lew K. Cohn

Managing Editor

Burnet Bulletin

Officials hope a partnership between Burnet County Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace Lisa Whitehead and the Burnet Consolidated Independent School District can help cut down truancy in the northern end of the county.

Whitehead and County Attorney Eddie Arredondo appeared before the Burnet County commissioners court at an Aug. 20 special called meeting to ask for permission to hire a full-time juvenile case manager, who would manage truancy cases from Burnet CISD, who has agreed to pay the county $15,000 to help offset the case manager's salary.

The rest of the cost would come an unfilled floating justice court clerk position as well as from a juvenile case manager fund, which would be established by assessing a juvenile case manager fee of $5 to every fine-only misdemeanor offense which comes through justice court, county court or the county court at law beginning Aug. 21, 2019.

Such a fee is authorized under Section 102.0174 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure and money collected may be used to finance the salary, benefits, training, travel expenses, office supplies, and other necessary expenses relating to the position of a juvenile case manager.

Any remaining money may be used to implement programs directly related to the duties of the juvenile case manager, including juvenile alcohol and substance abuse programs, educational and leadership programs, and any other projects designed to prevent or reduce the number of juvenile referrals to the court.

Arredondo said having a county juvenile case manager would allow that person to “work with families, the school district and the prosecutor to resolve issues and find ways to make sure kids get back in school.”

“We believe having a county position is the best way to handle this,” Arredondo said. “When a case manager is an employee of the district, they are not in a position to advocate independently for the child, especially if they see something that might be needed on the school side to help the child. Having an independent case manager allows them to handle cases more effectively.”

Whitehead praised the school district for working with the county to help find out the causes of truancy, not just to punish those who may be truant, especially as they start using the justice courts more to handle truancy cases due to state compulsory attendance laws.

“School districts are having to work harder to figure out why a child is truant and this position gets to know the families and what problems they may be facing,” Whitehead said. “It's about a lot more than just numbers. It's about who is in need of services and helping them with trouble before they ever get to truant conduct, so kudos to BCISD for doing this.”

“It's similar to working with Child Protective Services, but without the removal of children,” Arredondo added. “It's about trying to get to a positon so these kids do not end up in truancy.”

The commissioners unanimously approved establishing the position in Whitehead's department and establishing the $5 juvenile case manager fee.

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