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School board considers safety issues

Staff Writer

In preparation for next month’s election, the four candidates campaigning for two open seats on the Archuleta School District’s Board of Education were recently featured in a series of SUN articles and were asked to speak at the Archuleta County League of Women Voters forum, and while each candidate was asked to explain what they consider the most pressing issues facing the district today, no one brought up school safety.

However, it was discussed at some length during the Oct. 15 regular board meeting, with three areas of concern brought up.

The first involved the county’s recent purchase of the former Archuleta County Education Center building on the corner of Lewis and 4th streets.

The building was purchased with the intention of using it as a temporary courthouse until the roof at the current courthouse could be repaired. The Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners recently received a report from a structural engineer that the roof is in danger of collapsing under the weight of any snow deposited on it this winter, and the court system has pressed the county to find an alternative site.

The former ACEC building has already been remodeled to accommodate two murder trials. However, as of Wednesday’s deadline, one of the trials was still being conducted in the old building.

While circumstances have turned out otherwise, the board expressed its disapproval of the idea of having alleged felons brought to a building that is across the street from one of the main drop-off and pick-up areas for middle school students. Any prisoner transported from the jail to the temporary courthouse would not be in shackles, due to prisoner rights, but would be kept under control by sheriff’s deputies, the county promised.

The county commissioners apologized to the school board for not including it in the discussion or decision leading to purchase of the building. Furthermore, they promised that when the roof was repaired on the old courthouse, the courts would return to that building and the former ACEC building would be used only for county administration offices.

The second safety issue discussed at last week’s school board meeting involved traffic at the elementary school.

With the help of Chris Pitcher from Riverbend Engineering, and Mike Davis from Davis Engineering, along with engineers from the Colorado Department of Transportation, the traffic flow pattern at the site was adjusted over the summer in response to complaints from CDOT in regards to traffic backing up onto U.S. 160 during peak drop-off and pick-up times.

At last week’s meeting, bus driver Norman Dillard read a letter on behalf of his fellow drivers expressing concern over the current situation. Part of the problem is caused by the steep incline and sharp turns busses now have to negotiate, a problem that will be amplified once the school’s parking lot is covered with snow and ice.

The other part of the problem is the way bus drivers must now merge with civilian traffic. If a bus driver ever collides with a parent’s vehicle the school district will be liable, and under current conditions Dillard says the question isn’t “if” but “when.”

Elementary school Principal Kate Lister, who has taken on the responsibility of directing traffic, said, “Every morning I feel like I’m doing event parking for the county fair.”

She said school staff has put a lot of time and effort into trying to educate parents, along with providing some money for traffic control signs, and has fine-tuned the traffic pattern to give parents and busses more room to merge, but there are still issues.

The third part of the school safety discussion concerned an effort by Pagosa Springs Police Chief William Rockensock to obtain funding for a School Resource Officer.

On Dec. 14 Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. After killing the students and staff members, Lanza committed suicide by shooting himself in the head as first responders arrived. After the 2007 Virginia Tech incident, the Sandy Hook massacre was the second deadliest school shooting in United States history.

This event sparked a series of discussions by school board members to determine the best course of action for preventing such an occurrence in one of the local schools.

In March, the board heard from Bruce Hankins, superintendent of the Dolores County School District and principal of the Dove Creek Elementary School, who had obtained a concealed carry permit and received authorization to carry a firearm on the school campuses as a result of another nearly tragic incident that occurred in that town.

While Hankins didn’t advocate arming every teacher in a school, he did believe a few hand-picked staff members could receive police training and be trusted to carry firearms at school.

In June, the board heard from Leonard Martinez, one of the school resource officers in Durango. Martinez explained how his program works as a collaboration between the police department and the school district — the police department pays an SRO’s salary and provides all necessary training while the school district provides an office and any school related supplies the SRO might need.

Martinez presented a detailed and persuasive argument as to why a trained SRO under the jurisdiction of the local police department is a much better solution than arming teachers or school staff.

While Rockensock agreed with Martinez, saying he would not condone having armed personnel on campus if they were not a part of his department, on his payroll and under his direct supervision. However, the key obstacle to obtaining an SRO is funding.

Earlier in the summer, Rockensock applied for a grant from the federal Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS program, to help his department hire and pay for a uniformed officer to be assigned to the school district. On Oct. 1, he found out that his grant was unsuccessful; only two communities in Colorado submitted successful applications — the City of Fountain and Commerce City.

In a subsequent interview with SUN staff, Rockensock pledged to continue the effort and seek other sources of funding, although he expressed doubts town council would agree to fund an SRO out of its budget.

Election

According to Archuleta County Clerk and Recorder June Madrid, the school board election is scheduled for Nov. 5, 2013.  However, all elections are now mail ballot elections, so all active voters should have received a ballot in the mail shortly after Oct. 15.

For those who have not registered to vote, did not receive their ballot, or accidently ruined their ballot, the law allows for early voting, which will begin eight days prior to the election, on Oct. 28. Early ballots may be cast from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Election’s Office (downstairs in the courthouse), which will be the only voter service polling center.   All ballots, whether mailed in or completed in person, must be in by 7 p.m. on Election Day; postmarks do not count.

ed.fincher@pagosasun.com

This story was posted on October 24, 2013.