PUTNAM COUNTY - The United Way of Putnam County has approved a special needs $10,000 award for the Putnam County Truancy Mediation Program. The grant funding for this program is no longer available. According to Mike Klear, the mediation coordinator and attendance officer, the program would not have been able to continue as it currently is without this assistance from the United Way.

Klear said the program began in 1984 under former Juvenile Judge Dan Gerschutz as an extra step before students who are truant have to appear in court.

In 2004, the Putnam County Juvenile Court documented 82 cases of truant children in grades K-5, that ended up in the court system because of the severity of the truancy of the child. The Juvenile Court approached the Putnam County Educational Service Center (ESC) about addressing this issue of truancy with younger students.

The Putnam County Attendance Officer at the ESC works with each local school district's contact in monitoring the attendance of the students. Students are referred tot he attendance officer who has been excessive absences. The officer and school contact then decide which action is needed to be taken.

Under the mediation program, the mediation process consists of an informal meeting where people come together to talk about the causes of the truancy and how these problems can be resolved.

"The mediator serves as a neutral person that helps work through issues that may come up between the family and the school," Klear said. "The goal is to try to get the students to school."

Klear said the role of the mediator is to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to speak, that all sides understand each other and that both families and schools work together to resolve issues.

Klear said the mediator receives a local two-day training.

He said this mediation process is about giving parents or caregivers the opportunity to get more involved in their children's education and to help them learn and stay out of the juvenile court system.

Klear said in the past four years there has been an 85 percent reduction in truancy cases that did not go to court because of the truancy mediation program. In prior years funding was providing by the Safe Schools/Healthy Students grand funding. This funding is no longer available.

Funding is used to pay a trainer to come and train the local mediator and school contacts in the mediation process. It is also used for supplies and approximately ten percent of the salary for the attendance officer who monitors attendance and coordinates the mediations.

"Right now we have 5 mediators in the county," Klear said. "We are hoping to get more." He said anyone who is interested in becoming a mediators should contact him by calling 419-523-5951 (ext 376)

The United Way board indicated this funding does not guarantee future funding for the program, and urged the ESC to seek other funding sources.