Hot Sheet

‘Emergency’ alert to DougCo parents turns out to be pitch for an upcoming tax hike

Author: Dan Njegomir - February 9, 2018 - Updated: February 9, 2018

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(dcsdk12.org)

It’s every parent’s nightmare: Your phone buzzes; a notification for an incoming email from your kids’ school district reads “Emergency.” You’re instructed to click onto an audio message; your fingers fumble for the arrow, and the local school board president says in a solemn tone that he is “calling you with some important information.”

You’re thinking maybe a flu pandemic; maybe a gas leak; maybe — please, no — SWAT teams, helicopters and worse.

For some 77,000 Douglas County School District parents and others who received just such a message on Thursday, it turned out to be none of the above. Not even close. Board President David Ray’s message continued:

“Earlier this week, your Board of Education announced that we will begin the process to seek approval from voters for additional local funding in the form of a bond and mill-levy override.”

The recorded message proceeds to explain how the school district has fallen behind in addressing its funding needs, creating “significant inequities for our children.” Parents are then urged to attend an upcoming forum.

Emergency? Well, perhaps in the eyes of the school board. As it turned out, the the message was misrouted. A follow-up email to the public Thursday evening from district Communications Officer Stacy Rader explained:

Dear Douglas County Community,

You may have a received a phone message this evening regarding the fact that our board is considering pursuing additional funding from voters.

The message was sent via the wrong communications channel. It was sent via our emergency system instead of via the regular system. This was 100% human error on our part. The Communications Office takes full responsibility for this mistake — this was not done by our Board of Education.

We understand that the emergency notification system is only for use in emergency situations and sincerely apologize for any concern we may have caused.

We hope this doesn’t overshadow the important message from our Board President David Ray. We will follow up with an email version of the message.

As a parent, I understand how frightening it can be to receive an emergency message and how upsetting it is to find out that was send in error. We will make adjustments to our system to ensure this does not happen again.

Should you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at srrader@dcsdk12.org.

Rader elaborated when reached for further comment this morning, saying staff had opted for using the emergency communication path for the message via the district’s two-tier mass-notification system because the non-emergency path often gets bogged down. However, she said, they had tested that path to ensure the emergency verbiage wouldn’t be included when the e-blast came out the other end. Somehow, it slipped in anyway, she said.

Oops.

Rader said so far this morning hundreds of emails have come in from startled parents.

“Thankfully a majority of the emails I’m getting are understanding,” she said. “Some are not.”

Rader noted the board was permitted to use the district’s official communications infrastructure for its message because its pending bid for a bond issue and mill-levy hike is only in “early exploratory phases,” and the board has not voted on the matter thus far. At its regular meeting on Tuesday, the board, “gave district staff the green light to look at what a bond and mill levy package might look like,” she said.

Dan Njegomir

Dan Njegomir

Dan Njegomir is the opinion editor for Colorado Politics. A longtime journalist and more-than-25-year veteran of the Colorado political scene, Njegomir has been an award-winning newspaper reporter, an editorial page editor, a senior legislative staffer at the State Capitol and a political consultant.