Rift emerges over increasing school security after shooting

By John Aguilar
The Denver Post

CASTLE ROCK» A power struggle was laid bare Tuesday between Douglas County government officials and leaders of the state’s third-largest school district over how best to allocate millions of new dollars for school security just three weeks after the deadly shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch.

The Douglas County commissioners approved the formation of two committees — one to focus on physical safety at schools and the other on mental health — both of which will be tasked with identifying how to spend $10 million in one-time money to enhance safety in the 68,000-student district south of Denver.

The commissioners also backed allocating $3 million a year for dozens of new armed school resource officers, contingent on the district coming up with a match. The funds — $6 million in total with the match — could increase the number of SROs in the district from 11 currently to 61 over the next three years, according to a county finance official who addressed the board.

That was far more than the 27 total SROs the county proposed during a discussion with the school board last week.

But members of the Douglas County School District, who spoke in front of the commissioners Tuesday, said the district already had set its budget for the 2019-2020 school year and didn’t have the matching funds to hire more SROs.

The school board members also said that the two committees being proposed by the county to come up with school security solutions had “very minimal representation” from the district.

“With respect, the commissioners were not elected to make decisions for our students, staff and schools in DCSD,” school board member Wendy Vogel said. “It would be irresponsible … 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.”

School board president David Ray said expecting two newly formed nine-member committees to come up with sound recommendations by early July “seems rushed and ill-advised,” especially when the district has been working on school security issues for years.

Commissioner Roger Partridge said he was “offended” by the pushback he and his colleagues received regarding the county’s generosity, though he didn’t specifically name the school board as the target of his frustration.

Commissioner Abe Laydon said the local community wants action now, less than a month after two STEM students allegedly entered the school May 7 and shot nine fellow students, one fatally. Kendrick Castillo was fatally shot after lunging at one of the shooters inside a classroom.

“I hope they will step up and join us in a partnership to solve shootings in schools,” Laydon said of the school district.

Tuesday’s discussion included comments from the public, who split on whether arming teachers and staff is an effective deterrent to violence in schools. Others addressed metal detectors and better mental health counseling in the district.

Chase Babair, who just graduated from STEM School Highlands Ranch last week, said metal detectors are key. People, he said, are used to being examined before boarding a plane or entering a federal building.

“It’s not an inconvenience,” the 17-year-old said. “Why not do it for our schools?”

Wendy Regan, who works in a district school, said arming teachers would be a “horrible, careless and reckless idea.”

“I do not want school employees to carry weapons where I work or where my kids go to school,” she said. “Police officers — that’s their job.”

The two new committees formed Tuesday will begin work soon and are expected to report back with recommendations to the commissioners on how to spend the $10 million by early July. The commissioners also approved $331,000 in annual funds to create a community response team, which will be responsible for expanding mental health services for children in the community.