School board seeks ‘collective vision’ on school safety

No decision has been made on whether DCSD will accept county’s funding offer

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The Douglas County School District Board of Education has not made a decision on whether it will accept millions of dollars in financial assistance from the board of county commissioners, according to the school board president.

School board members have concerns about stipulations of the proposal, which would put control of the funds in the hands of two committees with little DCSD representation and require an annual match from the district for a portion of the funds.

In a letter to the board of commissioners, the school board asked that the two entities unite “in building upon a collective vision of a comprehensive framework for school safety.”

At a May 28 meeting, commissioners voted to allocate $13.3 million toward school safety initiatives. The plan outlined an ongoing $3 million to fund 61 schools resource officers in the county by the 2021-22 school year, contingent on a 50% annual match from schools in the county, along with the formation of two committees that would dictate spending of a $10 million one-time gift. County commissioners say possible ways to spend the money included entryway security and mental health programming.

The approval of the funds came exactly three weeks after a shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch left one student dead and eight others injured.

In a May 29 email response to an inquiry from Colorado Community Media, school board President David Ray said the board has not met to discuss the commissioners’ actions, nor discussed whether to accept or reject any funds.

Ray later added by email that the district had “yet to receive an ‘official offer’ from the commissioners” and the matter was not on the June 4 school board meeting agenda.

Superintendent Thomas Tucker was not available for comment, nor was Rich Payne, the school district’s director of safety and security.

A strongly worded news release issued by the school district May 28, attributed to the board of education, seems to indicate the board would not accept the funds unless changes to the plan are made.

“With respect, the Commissioners were not elected to make decisions for our students, staff and schools in DCSD. We would be grateful for monetary support, as well as support of any ballot initiatives (Mill Levy Override or Bond) in the future,” the release says. “It would be irresponsible, however, for our seven elected, volunteer board members to abdicate decision making responsibility for DCSD to the Douglas County Commissioners or any committees they may form.”

Roger Partridge, chairman of the board of commissioners, said he believes it is important for commissioners to retain control of how the $13.3 million is spent.

“I don’t believe those who elected us said we want you to hand over your authority,” Partridge said during the May 28 meeting.

Under the commissioners’ plan, a Physical School Safety and Protection Funding Committee would have nine members — five appointed by the county, two recommended by the school board and two by Douglas County law enforcement.

A Supportive Mental Health for Students Funding Committee would also have nine members — two representing the school district, one representing a charter or private school in the county, three representing the community and three appointed by the county.

The two committees would be charged with making recommendations on how to spend the one-time gift of $10 million.

Commissioners said they intend to have the committees formed as soon as possible and expect a report back by July 3, with the possibility of extending the deadline to July 15. They planned to send a formal letter to the school district requesting recommendations for the committees — who must be appointed by the board of commissioners — the week of May 27.

The board of education has expressed concern over the need for such committees, pointing to the school district’s existing Safety and Security Committee, comprising building leaders, district administration, security personnel, mental health professionals and representatives from local law enforcement agencies and fire departments.

In the letter to county commissioners, the school board said its current security and mental health personnel are well-informed experts who continually research and respond to safety issues on a daily basis. It would not be possible for an advisory committee to have the same understanding in three weeks, the letter says.

“This committee continually evaluates the current status of our comprehensive school safety framework, reviews researched based practices, consults without outside experts, and makes recommendations for improvement and enhancements to current practices and procedures,” Ray said in an email correspondence. “Adding additional advisory committees not only replicates efforts, but it also promotes `random acts,’ as opposed to continuing a focused, thoughtful and effective approach to a comprehensive plan for school safety.”

The commissioners’ plan to fund an ongoing $3.3 million for school resource officers, contingent on an annual 50% match from schools, has also spurred disagreement due to the inclusion of private schools, which account for roughly 10 percent of the county’s students.

“Channeling PUBLIC tax revenue to private entities will lead to loss of trust that tax revenue is being spent as intended,” the school board’s letter to county commissioners says. “Adding private schools to your proposal complicates the process given that elected officials do not govern these schools. Nor are there public accountability measures for these schools.”

While the future of school safety in Douglas County is unclear, board members and district staff continue to thank voters for passing last November a $40 million mill levy override that is helping fund 80 counselors and a $250 million bond, of which $15 million is allocated for security at charter and neighborhood schools.

To keep “all our students safe,” the school board asked this of county commissioners in its letter: “Our simple request is to work WITH us as opposed to forging a separate path that may not be effective nor beneficial.”

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