Douglas County Approves A $13 Million School Security Funding Booster, But The School Board Isn’t Cheering

Photo: Douglas County Commissioners | Lora Thomas Roger Partridge Abe Laydon 2
Douglas County Commissioners Lora Thomas, Roger Partridge and Abe Laydon at a Monday, May 13, meeting to discuss a budget proposal to fund school safety.

A fatal school shooting in the Douglas County School District earlier this month has spurred the county’s commissioners to approve a $13 million budget booster for school safety.

Douglas County commissioners signed off on the $13,331,250 on Tuesday after initially proposing $10 million at a May 13 meeting. The booster does not raise fees or taxes for residents, it relies only on county coffers.

A shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch on May 7 injured several students and killed one.

"We knew we had to have a response that was swift, deliberate and aligned with our responsibility for funding public safety," commissioner Lori Thomas said.

But the Douglas County School Board disagreed with many of the commissioners' moves, and outlined several issues in a letter released late Tuesday.

The new budget line was split in three categories. The bulk of the money, $10 million, was set aside as one-time funding for security technology at entry ways to schools, as well as expanded mental health services.

The commissioners allotted $331,250 for an ongoing effort to fund mental health services and community response teams. Those teams help students and families find resources for mental health and substance abuse issues.

Finally, $3 million was dedicated to fund half the cost of hiring a school resources officer for each Douglas County school. 

Photo: Douglas County Commissioners | Superintendent Thomas Tucker School Board President David Ray
Douglas County Superintendent Thomas Tucker (right) and School Board President David Ray at a Monday, May 13, Douglas County Commissioners meeting to discuss a budget proposal to fund school safety.

The Douglas County School Board expressed concern with the public funds going to private schools in the district.

"This complicates the process, as publicly elected officials do not govern private
schools and there is no public accountability measures for these schools," the board's letter said.

Another issue was the matching requirement for schools to access the school resource officers funds.

"The Commissioners also shared that ongoing funds can only be accessed if matched, which we have expressed to the Commissioners is virtually impossible at this point in the budget of our schools," according to the letter.

Most of the board's concerns lay with the county's creation of two committees on Tuesday. 

The Physical School Safety and Protection Funding Committee will be staffed by nine members, a mix of commissioner appointees, school board recommendations and law enforcement recommendations. 

A Mental Health for Students Funding Committee will also have nine members, representing public schools, charter schools, the county commissioners and community members.

 The Douglas County School Board's letter said that the committees offered unequal representation for private and charter schools.

"It is concerning that the Commissioners have proposed committees that provide for very minimal representation from DCSD," the letter said. "Further, the nine private schools in Douglas County with approximately 3,000 students, will have the same representation on the two committees formed by the Commissioners, if not more than DCSD, with 91 public schools and 68,000 student."

Commissioner Abe Laydon's opening comments to Tuesday's meeting appeared to anticipate the conflict.

"Is there a single answer? No. Does any proposed solution have flaws and imperfections? Absolutely. But that doesn't mean we give up," Laydon said.

Community response during the public comment portions at the meetings on May 13 and Tuesday was divided on how to handle school security, whether it be mental health services, metal detectors or arming teachers.

The conclusion of the board's letter did not appear to signal the end of the conflict anytime soon.

“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. 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.”