Juvenile services reaches end of funding

By Sarah Pridgeon

Federal funding opportunities have dried up for the Crook County Community Juvenile Services Board, the enterprise that helps kids in trouble reintegrate into society. To keep the program going, said Board Member Ernie Reinhold, the department will need financial contributions from the community.

With help secured from two additional sources, the department was granted $37,000 from the school district to keep the department open for the rest of the fiscal year.

“We’ve made a difference in a lot of kids’ lives,” he told the school board. “If the community wants it to continue, we are going to need the district to step up.”

The department has spent $500,000 over the last four years to help 80 kids through its six-month program. While this is an average cost of $6500 per child, said Reinhold, it has a better success rate than the alternatives.

Most kids enter the program rather than opt for unsupervised probation, Reinhold explained. Staff members spend one-on-one time with the kids and mentor them as they undergo supervised community service.

“We work with pretty much all kids who get a citation,” said Reinhold, telling the board that eight kids are currently enrolled and four more may join shortly.

Reinhold requested $37,000 from the school district to continue the program through the year and possibly into the summer. The department has already received $25,000 in ongoing grant funds from the Department of Health and $21,000 from the County Commissioners, he said, but federal money is no longer available.

Trustee Ken Rathbun commented that he had served on the board until recently and had spoken with the previous principal of the Bear Lodge High School, Dave Lougee, about the program.

“He was certain that two or three kids just last year would not have graduated without it,” he said.

“What is it worth? Well, what is it worth to save one kid?”

Current principal Jason Moss agreed, noting that it helps kids graduate, keeps them out of jail and keeps them in school.

“If it helps one kid, I think that’s enough,” he said.

Reinhold told the board of one particular kid who enrolled in the program after problems with his parents led to him becoming homeless. By the end of the process, said Reinhold, he had moved “from homeless to college graduate.”

Without help from the school district, Reinhold explained that the department would simply keep operating until it ran out of money. But while $37,000 had been set aside for the purpose in the district’s annual budget, Trustees Thayne Gray and Bud Williamson were concerned about allocating it, pointing out that the board had not been aware when the budget was created that it would soon be considering the financial impact of enhancements for a second new school.

Trustee Keith Haiar responded that granting the funding does not obligate the board to make the same decision next time and the situation can be reassessed when the department asks for more financial help down the road. The board allocated $37,000 from its budget to Juvenile Services, with Williamson and Gray voting against the motion.

Note: Story changed to reflect proper average cost of $6500 per child.