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Katahdin is cut loose by county, may have to close

A Minneapolis nonprofit that has worked with juvenile offenders and truants since 1978 is on the verge of closing. Read more…
By Scott Russell

A Minneapolis nonprofit that has worked with juvenile offenders and truants since 1978 is on the verge of closing.

Hennepin County ended its long-standing Structured Day Treatment contract with Katahdin on Monday. It was one of the Katahdin’s main funding sources. Juvenile Court ordered youth to attend the program, which provided counseling and academic support to help them get back on track and ultimately reconnected to school.

Katahdin Executive Director John Mitchell Jr. said: “If we can’t come up with other programs that can be funded, we will have to shut our doors after 30 years.”

The county also contracts with St. Paul-based Keystone Community Services for Structured Day Treatment. Keystone and Katahdin have had a combined 139 slots.

The county extended Keystone’s contract two months to Aug. 31, while the county scrambles to create a replacement program with Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS).

Keystone runs a food shelf, Meals on Wheels and other programs. President and Chief Executive Officer Eric Nyberg said the agency would survive even if the day treatment contract ended, but that program is a big chunk of Keystone’s revenue, approximately 40 percent.

Federal changes cut Hennepin funding
The county is overhauling Structured Day Treatment in part for budget reasons. Federal rule changes cut funding from $2.8 million to $1.6 million.

Brian Guidera, HSPHD area manager, said even if the budget weren’t an issue, the county would still seek changes.

“We were not getting the outcomes we wanted — which was to get these kids back to school,” he said. “The programs became more a comfortable place for the kids to come to, rather than a push to get them back to school.”

Keystone and Katahdin leaders challenge the county’s analysis.

Eggs in one basket
In hindsight, Mitchell said what he considered Katahdin’s strength turned into an Achilles’ Heal. The agency had focused on serving court-ordered kids, and staying small and intensive. If Katahdin had diversified, it might not be in its current bind.

“As we try to rebuild, we will try to keep that in mind,” he said. “Let’s not have every program we have basically getting its money out of the same pot.”

Katahdin has taken several recent hits. Due to funding cuts, it lost its supervised parental-visits program, another court-ordered program, Mitchell said.

Katahdin also lost a Hennepin County Department of Community Corrections and Rehabilitation Services contract to serve Extended Jurisdictional Juvenile (EJJ) youth, a last chance for serious juvenile offenders before going to adult court. The county gave the YMCA the contract this year, Mitchell said. A larger organization, the YMCA had lower administrative costs.

Katahdin has 15 employees. As of today, most are getting laid off. The organization will continue for 90 days, working on a new direction and seeking funding. If it doesn’t develop, “then we will look at going out of business,” Mitchell said.

Measuring outcomes

To hear county and nonprofit staff talk, you’d think they hadn’t talked to each other about the Structured Day Treatment program’s goals. Interviews paint a confusing picture of program success and what outcomes matter.

The county does not have a program analysis available for public review. (Some information is confidential.) In response to a request for details, public affairs provided a four-paragraph email, which read in part:

“Our internal audit showed the results are low but the costs are high. Hennepin spent an average of more than $7,000 per youth and less than 20 percent of the youth were going back to mainstream school or getting a GED, which was the goal. …”

Nyberg said more than 80 percent of his students improved at least one academic grade level during 2007, and more than 75 percent of students tracked still attended an outside school six months after completing their transition. Keystone only has students three to nine months.

“We don’t graduate students from high school,” he said. “We are an intervention program.”

Mitchell said youth who stayed in the program at least 3 months had a significant drop in recidivism — the program’s original reason for being. Further, students successfully completing the program gained an average of 1.4 grade levels in reading and two grade levels in math, he said.

More than 20 percent of Katahdin’s youth transition back to school, but most go to alternative schools, not traditional public high schools, he said. “To think that we can fix all of their problems in six to nine months, get them back into school and have them graduate two years down the road, I don’t believe is a realistic expectation.”

What next?

Brenda Cassellius, MPS assistant superintendent, said she just found out mid-June about the county’s interest in collaborating on a new program.

MPS is in the “early, early” stages of negotiations, and it does not know where the program will be located, she said. MPS wants a long-term commitment from the county, but Cassellius is sure something can be worked out.

“This is a surprise to us, but a welcome surprise,” she said. “We have a lot of work to do.”

Katahdin’s Mitchell said MPS does not have a good track record serving at-risk youth. “Maybe it will be wonderful,” he said. “My experience tells me that that isn’t going to work.”

County Commissioner Gail Dorfman thinks the county should revisit the issue.

“If it is not the right model, if there is a better model, by all means let’s bring everybody together and talk about something else,” she said. “The reality is, to just end it without an alternative in place is, I think, very short-sighted.”