By Andy Ross
Killeen Daily Herald

Next year’s funding outlook for Communities in Schools, a program serving at-risk youth across Bell and Coryell counties, has substantially improved thanks to a $279,000 grant from the Texas Veterans Commission and a number of new community partnerships.

The grant, approved last month, is good news for the Killeen Independent School District, which earlier this year announced it would eliminate funding for CIS in response to a looming revenue shortfall from the state.

In the wake of the school district’s announcement, CIS leaders warned they could be forced to eliminate services at all 20 KISD campuses where staffers have been in place.

With the grant, however — as well as through new support from the Boys & Girls Club and Lions Foundation — CIS is now planning to continue services at 12 KISD campuses.

“We are still going to have a presence,” Mary Barr, director for CIS, Bell-Coryell Counties, said this week. “KISD never changed their initial philosophy, which was a general lack of support for the program and the kids and families we serve, but we were able to overcome most of it. We have been really lucky.”

The district is pleased that more students will continue to benefit from the program.

“KISD is truly appreciative of the Communities in Schools efforts to apply grant dollars within the school district so that more campuses have the benefits of the CIS program,” Superintendent Robert Muller said in a statement Wednesday. “Communities in Schools provides services to students and their families that are, in many ways, beyond the reach of the school district. These services help create conditions that favorably assist the district in facilitating student learning.”

KISD’s decision to cut CIS funding drew criticism from many Killeen residents, who view the program as critical. Through counseling and other means of support, CIS assists students who are at risk of academic failure, come from economically disadvantaged families or are currently in crisis situations.

With an overall budget of roughly $2.6 million this year, CIS pulled in $462,000 in revenue from KISD — an amount representing the largest share from any of the five school districts served. Since learning state funding cuts would be less than original estimates, KISD has agreed to make a $35,000 contribution to CIS in 2011-12.

Temple, Belton, Salado and Copperas Cove school districts, by comparison, have all agreed to maintain at least the same level of funding as the current year, Barr said.

The total revenue loss facing CIS in the coming fiscal year is roughly $800,000 and includes a 30 percent cut in state funding.

Despite the veterans commission grant, Barr stressed that services will still be diminished in Killeen. CIS plans to cut operations at Harker Heights High School, Manor Middle School, Nolan Middle School, Live Oak Ridge Middle School, Rancier Middle School, Hay Branch Elementary, Iduma Elementary and Reeces Creek Elementary.