The Jeffco School Board approved a budget request from the Jeffco Security and Emergency Planning department for additional funding in response to increasing demands on the department during its Oct. 15 meeting. The move follows two previous board discussions about school security and the need for additional funding on Sept. 3 and Sept. 24.
John McDonald, executive director of Security and Emergency Planning, told board members at those previous meetings about the increased demand. Last year the district handled 281 threats — a 100 percent increase. Suicide assessments increased by 600 percent in the past two years.
McDonald added that in the last six weeks alone, Jeffco Schools received more than 6,400 calls from schools requesting assistance, did 240 suicide assessments, and responded to 116 reports from Safe-to-Tell. Jeffco Schools also received 12 reports of planned school attacks in the last six weeks, which mirrors a trend being seen across the nation currently.
The action will provide the department with an additional $250,895 in funding for immediate needs, including a threat assessment specialist, one additional security patrol officer, one campus supervisor coordinator and one campus supervisor floater. The board’s action also directed the superintendent to seek spending efficiencies and alternate funding sources to provide funds for the one-time and second-priority expenses in the request, and to plan for the ongoing costs in the 2016-17 budget.
“I’m worrying about student safety. I think we have to be vigilant and we have to do everything we can to protect our children,” board member Jill Fellman said. “I think we do need to move to action to say, ‘We need these items and we need them now.’ We cannot wait and see.”
“It’s about making sure that we’re doing everything that we possibly can,” Dahlkemper said. She added that while Jeffco sets the gold standard in school security, we also know there’s more that we need to do.
“These are not nice-to-have positions, these are need-to-have positions and positions that we’d like to move forward with sooner than later.” Dahlkemper said, echoing Fellman’s proposal to use one-time funds to tackle the immediate needs.
Dahlkemper added that she was frustrated that the board majority had pulled $18 million from the operating budget to build a school rather than leaving it available for operating costs like security. “We have had conversations about facilities and COPs [Certificates of Participation] and there were one-time dollars that instead of being used for facilities, could have been used for these and other immediate needs, or for reserves, or for other issues,” she said.
Board member John Newkirk expressed concerns that adding additional security personnel might threaten students’ civil liberties and create a “surveillance or police state.” He said he didn’t oppose anything in the proposal, but wanted to be careful going forward. Dahlkemper disagreed, stating, “This is not about creating some sort of police state. This is about making sure our Jeffco students are safe.”
Williams asked about the one-time costs for additional security vehicles. “Why can’t we buy just the standard Taurus where you could get eight of them instead of just three?” she asked.
“Because we have mountain coverage, we need the opportunity to have either all-wheel drive vehicles or have four-wheel drive vehicles,” McDonald explained. “We have to get around in snowstorms. We’re a 24-hour operation.” He added that several of the department’s vehicles have 180,000 miles or more and they’re rotating them out.
“Is there anything we can do in our schools as far as character-building?” Williams asked.
“That’s a topic of national discussion,” said Steve Bell, chief operating officer. “The issues are multifaceted, multi-complex, and they’re not just involving schools. Tragic events don’t happen just in schools.”
Williams also asked about what the district was doing to be proactive, noting that often, individuals hinted at the actions they were planning. “In many of those instances, there were signs but they weren’t recognized at the time,” she said.
McDonald explained that many of those tips come in through the Safe-to-Tell resource, and often his department will respond to calls at midnight or 2 am from students. Anti-bullying programs in school are another form of early intervention used across the district.
The efficiencies the district will target are ones that are from fuel savings and other items that are not fixed costs over time, Bell explained. He also cautioned that those costs may also increase, and that the district has serious facility needs. Kathleen Askelson, chief financial officer, told board members she thinks the district can accommodate the $250,000 of highest priority ongoing costs, though would prefer another month to chart budget trends.
“Our challenges continue, not only in safety and security but in all of our business service divisions,” Bell said. “Can we help? Yes. Is it a little uncertain? Yes it is.”
The district hopes to cover much of the one-time costs, including an upgrade of Martenson Elemenatry’s infrastructure to support security training, window safety film for elementary and middle schools, and interior door locks for high schools through grants, donations and partnerships. Some of those upgrades, such as the door locks, may be included in a future bond package as well.