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Calling All (Inexpensive) Social Workers
Parents, teachers and authorities are struggling to understand how two kids at Columbine High School could have murdered twelve of their classmates and a teacher without anyone paying attention to the warning signs. At the same time, social workers, nurses and psychologists in the Denver Public Schools are struggling to understand how DPS can consider hiring out school nursing and counseling contracts to the lowest bidder.

Since last November, the school district has formed three task forces--one each to study the level of services provided by DPS social workers, nurses and psychologists--to examine how the district can save money. One of the possibilities is to contract the services out to private providers ("The Denver Private School District," April 15). Now, instead of scrapping the discussions and spending more money on in-school efforts to identify and counsel troubled youth, DPS is moving forward with plans to provide those services more efficiently--which critics translate to "more cheaply."

"The school board is really hanging its neck out there by going forward with this proposal. If anything, more of these services are needed," says 26-year DPS social worker Richard Rosenow. "There need to be people in the schools to pay attention to kids rather than people from outside agencies dropping in. The federal government is demanding more people in the schools [as a result of the Columbine shootings], but the DPS is going in the opposite direction."

"Obviously we'll be looking at Columbine, as all districts are, and seeing what we can learn from it and what preventive steps the district can take," says DPS spokeswoman Amy Hudson, adding that the task forces will continue in their role, "to come up with the best solution for our students."

But an April report from the Interprofessional Task Force at the University of Denver--made up of people from DU's Graduate School of Social Work, its College of Education and community agencies--cautions DPS to reconsider contracting out its health and social services. "Children who are surrounded by uncertainty, disruption and violence in their homes and neighborhoods are often not ready for learning in the early grades and unable to learn in the later grades," reads the report, which was written before the Columbine killings. "Social workers lower learning barriers by providing early interventions that aim to prevent children's learning problems and crises interventions that assist teachers by solving immediate problems that interfere with classroom learning."

Sharon Macdonald, a school-board member who sits on the social-work task force, declined to say whether the task forces will recommend privatization. "We're on track and making progress," she says, "but we haven't come up with anything concrete yet." All three task forces are expected to deliver their recommendations in mid-May.

"From my experience, we can spot troubled kids when they enter kindergarten," Rosenow says. "We are aware of a number of kids who are dangerous, and we work with them to keep that dangerous attitude down so things don't happen. If the district contracts out these services, it will have a hard time keeping tabs on these kids."

--Julie Jargon

US West Takes a Trip to the Woodshed
A controversial bill that would have deregulated much of US West's business in Colorado was killed by its sponsor last week.

The measure, which was vehemently opposed by US West's competitors, was withdrawn by Representative Jack Taylor, who blamed "scare tactics" for the measure's lack of support in the House. Taylor said opponents had used "half truths and innuendo," including a Westword cover story about the proposal ("Connections Count," April 8), to fight the bill.

Consumer advocates opposed the legislation, saying it would hike telephone bills in Colorado and discourage rival phone companies from entering the Colorado market. Taylor's proposal would have removed many of the price regulations affecting US West while imposing new requirements on the company's competitors. His original proposal also called for new surcharges on telephone bills to fund the development of telecommunications in rural Colorado.

US West has been pushing similar bills in other states. Earlier this month, New Mexico governor Gary Johnson vetoed a US West-backed bill in that state, saying he feared it would set back the introduction of new telecommunications technology in New Mexico.

At the same time the US West legislation was going down in the Colorado House, US West CEO Sol Trujillo was getting a grilling from the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee's Ernest Hollings for blocking local phone competition and defying existing rules. "What if we set a deadline," asked Hollings, "and set a fine for each day that you don't [comply]? That would sure open up competition in a hurry."

--Stuart Steers

 
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