Douglas County commissioners: Schools can apply for portion of $10 million to enhance safety

Schools can apply through Sept. 17

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The Douglas County Board of Commissioners has confirmed it will allow local schools to suggest how to spend funds the board pledged for school safety through an application process, but the commissioners will have final say over what spending is and is not approved.

Meanwhile, the Douglas County School District's board of education has said it is still too early know if, and for what purposes, the public school district will pursue county money.

The district has already allocated $429,000 for seven additional school resource officers and has hired 80 new counselors. Money from a $250 million bond approved by voters last November is going toward physical security improvements in schools.

Commissioners on Aug. 7 formally announced they would allow public, charter and private schools to submit applications to receive portions of a $10 million offer from the county.

“We are a board that believes strong communities find common ground and unite for positive change during difficult times,” Commissioner Roger Partridge, board chairman, said in a statement.

Commissioners in May allocated $10 million in one-time funds to boost mental health support and physical security in county schools, along with $3 million a year to support SROs. The move was a response to a shooting earlier that month at STEM School Highlands Ranch in which one student was killed and eight others were injured.

The commissioners formed two committees, one for mental health and the other for physical security, that made recommendations on how to spend the money.

Based on the committees' findings, the county also announced Aug. 7 six areas in which it plans to focus the spending:

  • Assessments of school security, climate and culture.
  • Improving physical school security, such as secured building access.
  • Training for law enforcement, security guards, school personnel, parents and students.
  • Social emotional learning and mental health support.
  • Anonymous bystander reporting platforms, such as Text-a-Tip.
  • Standardizing emergency communications across schools.

Schools have until Sept. 17 to complete the application online.

“Our charter schools are very grateful for the commissioners' efforts and for the opportunity to apply for funding to make immediate changes to further improve the safety of our kids,” Alison Rausch, spokeswoman for the Alliance of Douglas County Charter Schools, said in a county news release.

The Douglas County School Board discussed the commissioners' proposal for the first time in public at a board meeting on Aug. 6. The consensus was that Superintendent Thomas Tucker should be the one to decide if the district moves forward with the application process.

Board members recognized the value of the partnerships at play and expressed gratitude for the work that has gone into the commissioners' proposal. They support the mental health initiatives on the table, which include more social-emotional support and mental health training.

“There is a pot of money there. To me, it's just like applying for a grant,” board member Anne-Marie Lemieux said, referring to the mental health resources.

But school board members worry about using an online application process for something as sensitive as school security. Tucker, too, expressed concern with using a process that could potentially be accessible to the public through an open records request.

“We have said from day one that we will not do anything that compromises the safety of our schools,” Tucker said. “It has the opposite effect if it compromises the very people we are trying to protect.”

Instead of an application process, school board President David Ray recommended entering into an intergovernmental agreement, or IGA, with the county, which both parties could negotiate through their attorneys and would “protect some of that specificity.” The school board would have to approve the IGA.

Board members supported the idea.

“Ultimately, we have to have an IGA, and if it requires, or if an application requires too much specificity and does not move us completely forward with security, it actually is hurting us because we are revealing things that our security experts think should not be revealed,” board member Krista Holtzmann said.

If the district receives pushback on its request for an IGA, Ray said he would support a decision to decline the commissioners' offer for the funds.

“It's not worth it to compromise the safety of our kids to pursue that funding,” Ray said, adding, “It's a hard thing to say. It would be unfortunate if procedurally there is a breakdown.”

The next step for the district is to make clear how they will respond to the commissioners' proposal. A timeline was not specified at the meeting.

“Dr. Tucker has clarity in terms of how we move forward,” Ray said.

Tucker echoed that statement and recognized the commissioners' goal to fund some "unique things like emerging technology."

"I absolutely understand the position of the board, as well as the board and administration being appreciative of the funding," Tucker said.

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