Board talks bonds, guns at work session

MEEKER | Meeker’s Board of Education held a work session Monday to discuss a variety of items, but the meeting was dominated by the two main topics: an upcoming bond issue and school safety.

The meeting began with a presentation by two Denver-based investment bankers from George K. Baum and Company, who presented three plans for a potential bond issue to pay for a new high school. They claim their four-step, multi-tiered process has an “86 percent track record if you jump through all these hoops.” The process begins with voter analysis and a mail survey. Paul Hanley, a senior vice-president for the firm, said the process is “not scientific but can help read the tea leaves on ‘do you have a chance?’ and ‘does it need to be modified?’” and added approximately eight to 17 percent of surveys are returned.

“It’s all about respecting the taxpayer,” Hanley stated. “The key is that you need to do your homework.”

Board member Tom Allen pointed out the school district is “on a bad road; we’ve lost our last two attempts at an override.” District Superintendent Chris Selle added, “I think we have to have a bond campaign within the next few years.”

The expertise of George K. Baum and Company comes with a $25,000 price tag, as well as approximately $5,000 in hard costs for printing and postage of the survey and other mailers. “We mail it because we gotta break through the clutter,” Hanley said.

Much of the proposed bond’s legalities and technicalities are tied to whether the district’s BEST grant is approved, but that decision will not be finalized until mid-June. The firm’s public policy development timeline would need to begin no later than the end of this month.

The district will hold a special meeting Monday, March 12 at 7 p.m. to determine whether to move forward with the company, with or without BEST grant monies.

The board reviewed and discussed a letter written by board member Dr. Bob Dorsett. The letter, if approved, would be sent to the state legislature and calls on representatives to intercede against the “known threat” of school shootings, outlining measures such as banning assault-style weapons and high capacity magazines, strengthening requirements for background checks, providing for restraining orders if there is imminent threat, requiring waiting periods after application for a gun purchase, and removing restrictions on research into gun violence.

Dorsett elaborated on his position: “I think it’s worthwhile for people to speak up, and particularly school districts, and I would recommend to you that it is important. Not necessarily from the likes of a political issue or from the likes of the Second Amendment issue but from a public health perspective and student safety perspective. From the evidence, it is absolutely clear. These are problems, these are problems of magnitude.”

Dorsett continued, “It is not acceptable that this many people die in this country from these causes. I think there are some things that can be done. There’s evidence. There’s a big hole in the capacity to study this problem—hats off to the students at the high school in Parkland to try to speak up. I think it would be worthwhile to follow their lead.”

Dorsett also contended the school district could perhaps be liable if a tragedy were to occur.

Selle elaborated on what is known as the Claire Davis law, which he described as having “a lot of vagueness in it.” The law removes some of the governmental immunity surrounding school shootings, but “nothing has been tried with it yet,” according to Selle.

Dorsett was met with stout opposition from other board members.

“As a board member, I don’t feel comfortable at all. If we write a letter like this about firearms, then we better be writing a letter about Budweiser and we better be writing a letter about Chevys. I personally cannot support a political statement which I feel this is,” Bill deVergie said.

David Smith also had “a little trouble” with the letter’s contents. “We get the gun stuff taken care of so then they start running kids over with cars. To me a lot of it is the mental state of these people. I don’t know where it’s coming from and what we’re going to do about it.”

Tom Allen stated, “I certainly agree that something needs to be done. I agree with all the issues in the letter. For me, it’s a societal issue, it’s not a gun issue. I feel better about our preparedness after having heard the discussion at the last meeting and after reading Chris’s updates on what’s being done in our district and identifying our weaknesses and plans to address those. Recognizing threats, to me that’s the absolute crux of the matter right there. I probably couldn’t support it for those reasons. If there were something we could do as a board or something I could do personally to address the readiness I’m all over it. I’m a little uncomfortable about the political nature of the letter.”

“I would hope people take time to read the references also. A lot of questions would be answered,” Dorsett said, referring to the materials he put together.

Board President Bud Ridings said, “I don’t think the gun’s the problem. We’re all spun up, the whole nation’s spun up over these school shootings and I get that. I think it’s important because if that was a gun laying there it’s not going to do anything but lay there. It will never move unless someone picks it up and starts using it.” He then touched on traffic accident statistics. “I don’t think the gun’s the issue. I think it’s society and that’s where I’ll leave it.”

Dorsett countered, “The evidence is clear that it’s the availability of guns, that it’s the number of guns, that correlate very strongly with the numbers of deaths and injuries. Certainly those that pull the trigger, many of them are mentally incapacitated or out of their minds, but the evidence is that without the availability of guns a lot of those things would not happen.”

“I can’t disagree with that, not at all. Absolutely not,” Ridings said.

Allen added, “I’d have to say this. Legality and availability aren’t necessarily coincidental.”

Smith thanked Dorsett for his extensive research, but added, “It’s the mentality of our society that increasingly breaks the dang law. It seems like every time we get more laws, we have to write more laws.”

Dorsett concluded, “I’m fine if there’s no support for it, but I really do hope people think about it and I think it is an important consideration for the community. Are we going to accept this? I don’t think that’s right.”

“I don’t think we should,” Smith agreed. “We can’t accept it.”

This conversation then segued into school safety, with Selle touching on an upcoming threat assessment and safety plan as well as the recent success of the Safe To Tell program. The district has had more safety tips come in the past two weeks than in the past six years combined, according to Selle.

The board also discussed a potential armed school resources officer, which will cost around $35,000 a year. Board member Kevin Amack expressed concerns. “If we have three buildings and one officer I’m a little skeptical they can respond as quickly. I think he’d be hard pressed to be in the right place at the right time. If I knew there was one guy with one gun, I’d sneak up on him first. I’m a little skeptical.”

“A psycho high school kid isn’t thinking that way,” Ridings contented.

“You sneak up on the guy with the gun,” Amack reiterated.

“What can we do to ensure student safety? That’s what we have to focus on. We can control that stuff,” Selle said.

Amack asked, “How does that $35,000 potentially compare to the cost of arming volunteer administrators or teachers?”

“Most teachers don’t want the responsibility,” Smith stated.

“We’d have to open that conversation up to staff.” Selle added. “My guess is it’s probably a five digit figure so you’re not too far off.”

“I’d be absolutely adamant that it be voluntary,” Allen stated.

“Do we want to put our staff, even when we say it’s completely voluntary, in that position?” Selle asked. “(They say) ‘Just give guns to teachers.’ It’s not that black and white.”

“I’m just skeptical that one guy in one building is going to get there any faster than a 911 call,” Amack said.

Smith chimed in, “When you pull a gun on somebody you’re not playing around. The mental preparations for that take a hell of a lot of training. That’s not what teachers are trained to do. Teachers are trained to teach.”

Amack ceded that those were good points.

deVergie added, “Presence. That’s a deterrent. You gotta hope that you’re gonna deter somebody and you hope it makes them think.”

Allen stated he was troubled by how the shooter in Parkland got into the building with a rifle, and Selle added, “I would say our high school is a frightening building when you think of it in school safety (terms).”

Dorsett then said, “I think it would be worthwhile to inquire of the staff what they think about it also (on the resources officer and potentially arming staff).”

In other discussion, Selle reported there were currently no updates on the BEST grant, that his superintendent evaluation is in the works, and that he’d like to find a way to reallocate a small monthly health insurance subsidy received only by employees with family plans to everyone on staff, perhaps through a higher cost of living increase than the one percent originally budgeted.

The next regular board meeting is Monday, March 26.