Numerous key questions remained unanswered following a July 16 meeting in which Douglas County commissioners heard formal recommendations for how to spend $10 million toward school safety, although the public got a closer look at how more than $3 million in ongoing funds are already being put to use.
The board had voted on May 28 to allocate the $10 million in one-time funds toward mental health and physical security in local schools. The decision came three weeks to the day after a shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch left one student dead and eight injured.
Commissioners had also approved more than $3 million in ongoing funds to add school resources officers in the county and a co-responder team to work with local youths.
“There is something at work bigger than all of us,” Commissioner Lora Thomas said at the July 16 meeting.
The board had formed two committees, one to research mental health resources and the other physical security. It charged them with bringing forward ideas for how to spend the $10 million pot of money. The committees' deadline was mid-July, giving the groups roughly three weeks to complete the task.
The groups' presentations, given July 16 in Castle Rock, remained high level, careful not to divulge details of local schools' current security and infrastructure. They didn't want to inform anyone who might wish harm on students, said chair of the school security committee, Clinton Dorris.
The board did not finalize how money would be distributed to the school district or individual schools. Committee presentations also did not disclose the estimated cost of their recommendations.
The committee that researched physical school safety largely called for consistent policies throughout local schools from the training of private security and law enforcement to the types of radios first responders use.
The mental committee suggested several programs to provide students support, including assessments that gauge a school's culture and mental health needs.
Commissioners said at the start of the work session they would not remark on the proposals that evening, a stance they maintained when asked for comment following the meeting.
They'd only received the committee reports that evening, and were still digesting the information, said Roger Partridge, chairman of the three-member board of commissioners. He called it the beginning of a lengthy process.
It was unclear exactly which, if any, of the recommendations would be in place by the school year's start on Aug. 7, although Partridge expected some would be. The board and county staff did not know when the $10 million would be placed on a board meeting agenda.
“We want to expedite this process but we want to do it in the right way,” Partridge said.
The July 16 meeting was a work session, typically held in a small conference room and sparsely attended by the public. But this time, dozens of community members, including STEM victims, attended.
John Castillo, father of the STEM student killed May 7, Kendrick Castillo, spoke to commissioners. He attended with his wife, Maria.
“I don't have all the answers, just as you don't,” he said, adding he wanted to be part of the change and was pleased to see the SRO program being expanded. “We need to stop this devastation and we can do it.”
Partridge said work would continue in the coming days.
The board was scheduled to hold two executive sessions with the physical security committee and a public meeting with the mental health committee before the week's end.
While commissioners mull how to spend the $10 million, they also heard how the funds for the co-responder team and school resource officers are being spent.
Commissioners approved putting $3 million toward more SROs in the county, although the funds are contingent on a 100 percent match from local schools.
Undersheriff Holly Nicholson-Kluth presented on the county's school resource officer program.
The sheriff's office already provides 11 SROs to local schools but is actively recruiting more for the coming school year. The department will add five SROs to middle schools, two to charter schools, and expects to convert seven school marshal positions into eight more SRO positions for elementary schools by December.
Additional sergeants and detectives will support the SROs, Nicholson-Kluth said.
The Parker and Castle Rock police departments each provide three resource officers to schools in their community. Each department recently received council approval to add one SRO in the school district, bringing their counts up from two.
“This brings the total number of school resources officers to over 40 in the schools in Douglas County,” Nicholson-Kluth said. “I can say that these numbers in themselves will help make the schools and students and staff safer. So, thank you.”
A spokeswoman for the Douglas County School District said the district is adding the new SROs to its existing contracts with three law enforcement agencies and the funds are not part of the $3 million match requested by the commissioners.
The commissioners heard from its newly created Youth Community Response Team, the first of its kind in the state.
The county already operates a co-responder program that pairs law enforcement and mental health clinicians to handle calls with a mental health component. The teams work with a case manager to provide ongoing care and supervision to their clients.
The overarching goal is to keep people in a mental health crisis from going to the emergency department or jail and directly connect them with resources like treatment. The Youth CRT will work exclusively with school-age children and their families in the community and county schools. The cost of funding the team is $331,250.
“Those whose loved ones enter a new school year will do so knowing that something has changed,” Commissioner Abe Laydon said. “More is on the way.”
This story was updated to show the Douglas County School District has not provided a match to the school resource officer funding.
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