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School board members pause discussions of extending STEM School charter

One student was killed and eight others were injured in a shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch.

DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colorado — The Douglas County School Board voted early Wednesday morning to hold off on making any decisions regarding a charter extension at the school where a student was killed in a shooting last month.

More than 60 people signed up for public comment Tuesday night as the school board weighed whether to rescind its offer for a three-year charter extension at STEM School Highlands Ranch.

The board is considering a one-year charter for the school and could vote on a new resolution that specifically mentions the May 7 school shooting where two students are accused of entering the school with guns.

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Nine students were injured, including Kendrick Castillo, who died trying to stop one of the shooters.

Board members said Wednesday if a new agreement can't be reached over the course of the next seven business days, there will be special meeting on June 29th to revisit the one-year deal.

The said they started considering a one-year charter resolution after concerns were raised about school safety and security following the shooting.

The new resolution also cites the school district’s prior “disagreements” with STEM School before the shooting and several other issues relating to transparency, training and hiring of staff for mental health.

Public comment regarding this resolution was supposed to happen closer to 6:30 p.m. but was pushed back until the school board could discuss the new agreement.

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Each of the dozens of people scheduled to speak were allocated three minutes, and the board said it wanted to get through other business first.

Parents, however, said they were concerned the decision was an effort against them.

“You see all the people here, who are here to support and speak – and how many of us want to stay until 11 p.m.?” asked STEM parent Michelle Khalupa, whose son is going into second grade. “I have to get home to my 6-year-old, and I think this was a deliberate issue to push back the speaking so they could lose people that are there to support us.”

STEM Executive Director Penelope Eucker wrote a letter to parents arguing that if the board does reduce the agreement to one year, it could hurt the school’s funding.

“Charter schools must fund through bond offerings," Eucker said. "Investors see a less then maximum renewal as a lack of confidence from the authorizer. Three years instead of five years will cost STEM and Colorado taxpayers $5 million over the life of our bond. It is squandered funds and we have appealed to the DCSD board and when that failed, we have appealed to the Colorado State Board of Education.”

Parents said a shorter charter could be perceived as a lack of confidence from the Douglas County School Board.

“So, unfortunately, it’s probably going to cause the school to go bankrupt and cave in,” STEM parent Justin Phillips said. “It’s going to cripple the school financially is what it’s going to do.”

The school district wrote a letter to Eucker claiming that negotiations about the agreement predated the shooting.

“Unfortunately, these negotiations were interrupted with the horrific tragedy. Because this occurred so close to the end of the school year, and for obvious reasons, these negotiations were not reconvened due to all of us directing support to students, staff, and the families of STEM,” the letter read.

“Because of this, and the fact that the charter expires at the end of this month, it was proposed to extend STEM's current contract for another year. This would provide ample time for STEM's leadership team and our District to reconvene the conversation regarding an appropriate renewal term and conditions.

“It is unfortunate, that the message conveyed to your community is that the District is "not more supportive of STEM." I have never experienced a more valiant effort supporting a school going through a crisis, than what was provided by the District for STEM. I sincerely hope you understand that the proposed actions by the Board provides grace to the timing of these unusual and tragic circumstances.” 

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