OURAY – A newly formed school safety sub-committee convened for the first time on Monday afternoon, Jan. 28, to discuss how to make the Ouray School a more secure place, in the aftermath of last December’s Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
The committee, comprised of parents, teachers, school administrators and local law enforcement personnel, focused mostly on physical aspects of the school facility. Some of the ideas discussed included placing shutters or double blinds on ground level windows, installing new security bolts on classroom doors, and reconfiguring the elementary school entrance to have a set of double doors for security, or alternatively using the east-facing elementary door as an exit only, so that everyone must use the south-facing front entrance on Seventh Avenue.
Superintendent Scott Pankow stressed that reconfigurations must take place throughout the facility, which is aging and has undergone numerous additions and renovations over the year resulting in rather a rabbit warren of a lay-out. Improvements must also be made to the communications system between the school building and the gym, which are on opposite sides of Seventh Avenue.
These improvements will initially be paid for out of the school’s maintenance fund. Pankow is also investigating applying for a BEST grant through the State of Colorado, which provides an annual amount of funding, in the form of competitive grants, to school districts for school construction and renovation.
“It will be tight; we don’t have a lot of extra money to spend,” said Ouray School Board president Mike Fedel. “But we will keep at it, and will go looking for the funds we need to make this happen.”
Additionally, law enforcement personnel will begin making more frequent visits to the school to walk the halls and become familiar with the layout of the facility. Plans are underway for the school to refine and practice lockdown and evacuation procedures in the near future.
Fedel said that the group also discussed hiring a school resource officer (an armed guard that would stay at the school all day) as well as the merits of allowing teachers to carry concealed weapons – currently forbidden by state law.
“Personally, I’d love to see that,” Fedel said. “It really doesn’t make much sense to declare a gun-free zone; in my estimation that is asking for trouble.”
However, teachers here will not be carrying concealed weapons any time soon. In Senate committee on Monday, Colorado Democrats rejected a Republican bill that would allow teachers to carry concealed weapons on school grounds. The bill failed on a 2-3 party line vote.
The Ouray School safety subcommittee will continue to meet on the third Monday of each month at 4 p.m.
MULTI-YEAR SUPERINTENDENT CONTRACT APPROVED
After a month’s delay, Ouray School Superintendent/Principal Scott Pankow now has a new contract that ensures his employment for the next three years. The contract requires a sequestration of funds equal to one year of Pankow’s salary (about $110,000), to comply with the Taxpayer Bill of Rights’ prohibition against multiple fiscal year debt obligations. This money will be payable to Pankow in the unlikely event that the board terminates his contract prematurely without cause. If Pankow himself elects to leave the district before his contract is up, the district would owe him nothing.
The contract that the board approved on Monday was slightly revised from the one that had previously been under consideration in that it more specifically spells out how much the school agrees to hold in reserve – namely, one year’s salary and no benefits.
Under the original contract, it was unclear whether the board would have to hold one or two years’ salary in reserve. Board member Don Mort said he was still uncomfortable with the concept of sequestering current budget funds to secure future year commitments, but agreed go along with his fellow board members in approving the three year contract.
PARENTS RALLY IN SUPPORT OF STUDENT
About 10 community members, most of them parents of Ouray School students, attended Monday’s board meeting to support a local family who is appealing to the board on a disciplinary matter regarding their son, a student at Ouray High School. Those in attendance praised the student in question as “an outstanding young man” and urged the board to reconsider a disciplinary action that “could impact his entire life.”
The boy’s parents invited their supporters to participate in an executive session with the school board and administrators, which extended for about two hours after the regular meeting had adjourned. With no decision reached, and the hour nearing 10 p.m., the board agreed to reconvene the executive session on Wednesday afternoon.
PRESCHOOL FUNDING AT RISK
The Ouray School has eight state-funded Colorado Preschool Program slots for low-income children, which annually bring in about $11,000 to help fund the district’s preschool program. However, Pankow reported, the school is at risk of losing some of those slots next year if not enough low-income parents apply for them. Pankow hopes to get the word out to urge more families to apply for the slots. The preschool is funded by a combination of CPP funds, district funding allocations and in-kind support, and parent fees. “Right now we are are one of the least expensive preschools in the state,” Pankow noted. “We don’t want to have to subsidize the preschool any more than we already are. There are a lot of costs but we know it’s important.”
STANDARDS-BASED REPORT CARDS
The Ouray Elementary School rolls out new standards-based report cards next month. The new method of grading students ties students’ grades to a rubric so that parents will know what competencies their children have and what they need to work on.