By Rebecca LaFlure

Killeen Daily Herald

The Bell-Coryell Communities in Schools program may have to cut its service at six campuses in the Killeen Independent School District next year due to a lack of funding largely driven by the economy, according to executive director Mary Barr.

The program's deteriorating budget is further challenged by a rapid increase in children seeking help from the program. Barr will inform the KISD board of trustees of the program's financial situation at a board workshop this morning.

"There's six schools that the program has been paying for, and because of grant cuts, we don't have the money to do that anymore. So we're just very concerned about their future," Barr said.

"I'm hoping they (the KISD board) can help me come up with some additional funding."

CIS is a national nonprofit organization aimed at curbing high school dropout rates. It monitors the attendance and academic performance for at-risk students from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade.

The Bell-Coryell CIS serves five districts, and is housed directly on many campuses – including 24 in KISD.

According to Barr, available grant and foundation money from both the public and private sector has plummeted since the economic downturn.

The program's budget has decreased by about $200,000 to $300,000 in the past year, she said.

Currently, Bell-Coryell CIS's budget is just below $3 million, and 37 percent comes from state funding. Other means of support ? including grants, foundations and school district money ? make up the other 63 percent.

At the same time, the number of students the program case-managed jumped from 6,315 students served in the 2005-06 school year to more than 8,000 in the 2007-08 school year.

Each member of the program's 68-person staff manages at least 100 children from 52 campuses, and five school districts.

"With the economy such as it is, and the personal loss of revenue of the families through loss of jobs, increased cost of living, there is more and more poverty and need than we have ever seen," she said. "We have so many kids that are referred to us that we just cannot help."

A set of House and Senate bills are making their way through the Legislature. If passed, House Bill 1673 and Senate Bill 817 will raise CIS's total state funding from the current $20 million to $30 million.

State Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, authored SB 817 to expand funding into schools and districts previously unable to be served, according to Shapleigh spokesperson Daniel Collins.

El Paso is home to the largest CIS program in the state. The Bell-Coryell program is the second largest.

A recently released review conducted by the Texas Education Agency concluded that CIS has significant and lasting impacts on students and their families by increasing graduation rates, decreasing dropout rates and improving parent involvement for students with pronounced behavioral problems, Collins added.

State Rep. Ralph Sheffield, R-Killeen, was a co-author of HB 1673.

Currently, both bills are being considered in-committee.

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