DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. -- Just days after the deadly school shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch in May 2019, elected leaders pledged $10 million to improve school safety and mental health. But nearly two years later, Denver7 Investigates has discovered a majority of that money has not been spent.
Commissioners gave the Douglas County School District (DCSD) $6.8 million to address school security and mental health. The rest mainly went to private and charter schools. So far, the district has only spent just over $1 million or 16% of that money, according to records obtained by Denver7.
That news is disappointing to John Castillo, whose son 18-year-old son, Kendrick, was killed in the May 7, 2019 STEM School shooting when he was shot by a classmate.
“I’m kind of blown away by that, taken back because in all honestly, in actuality, with COVID there has never been a more ideal time to put a plan in action,” he said.
Douglas County commissioners had voted unanimously days after the shooting to redirect $10 million dollars from the county’s general fund and reserves to make those improvements in schools.
Castillo said he was glad, even if it was too late to save his son.
“We were pleased to see that those funds were made available. However, it was also heart wrenching that … it’s like a day too late, if you will. It wasn’t enough to be there to save our son,” he said. “It’s amazing how quick after an act of domestic terror we can find funds and money and start working on solutions.”
Former 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler was also taken aback by the district’s lack of spending.
“I’ve got to hear why. It seems inexplicable to me,” said Brauchler, who is prosecuting one of the accused STEM School shooters and has four children in the district. “I don’t understand what the delay is, and I think the community, me too, deserves to hear what the details are of that failure.”
Rich Payne, director of school security and safety at the Douglas County School District, said the delay is related to the COVID pandemic, as the shutdown halted several projects.
“It took a different turn for all of us. I would love to have all this done,” he said.
Payne said a sub-committee has already decided where the remaining $5 million-plus will go. He said the district is just waiting for the projects to be completed before paying out the funds.
He said he’s trying to be a good steward and make sure each product and project are fully vetted.
“I have procedures I have to follow,” he said.
Douglas County Commissioner Lora Thomas said she believes that the situation would be different if not for COVID and hopes the money will be spent soon.
“But that doesn’t mean that the commissioners aren’t watching and concerned and want this done as quickly as possible,” she said.
Captain Troy McCarty, with the Douglas Sheriff’s Office, was one of the first responding deputies to the STEM School shooting and is now part of the team making sure kids are safer.
“Every time I drive by the school, I think of that day,” he said. “We've basically doubled the size of our school resource officers to not only be in our high schools, but in our middle schools.”
He said the sheriff’s office would have like to have seen the process with the school district move quicker but stressed that he understands the dilemma facing the district.
Castillo said he wants the district to “step up your game and get to work.” And he doesn’t want any other family to have to go through their pain.
“We can’t wait until there’s another event, and this money just sitting there – that’s exactly what it’s doing,” he said.
DCSD said it hopes to have all the money spent by this summer, before kids go back to school next semester.
The district wouldn’t go into specific details about many of the projects, citing security, but did say a large portion of the money is being spent on improving communication, including a radio system that will connect all four law enforcement agencies, the school and first responders, which didn’t exist before the shooting.