School Climate & Safety

Columbine Students Return to Class; District Finds Itself in Debt

By Jessica Portner — May 12, 1999 3 min read

Students who used to attend Columbine High School in Jefferson County, Colo., are beginning to feel less like victims and more like students. Last week, they began to settle into a routine of classes, homework, and final exams at a neighboring high school.

The first few days at Chatfield High School were mostly spent reuniting with classmates and teachers and talking about the shootings April 20 in which 14 students and a teacher died.

The roughly 1,900 Columbine students also are adjusting to the late shift: Chatfield students attend classes during the day, and Columbine students take courses until 6 p.m.

By the end of last week, signs of normalcy emerged. The girls’ soccer team continued to practice, students performed in a concert, and seniors were preparing for a special graduation ceremony on May 22 at an outdoor concert hall.

“It’s getting back to normal,” said Marilyn Saltzman, a spokeswoman for the Jefferson County public schools. “Every day gets better.”

Financial Problems

But as students recovered emotionally from the tragedy that shocked and saddened their suburban community and the nation, the district was struggling with a more mundane problem: serious financial debt.

“The piggy bank is empty,” said Ms. Saltzman, who announced last week that the district would need more than $50 million over the next three years to cover costs related to the tragedy. The district’s budget is $445 million.

On the morning of April 20, seniors Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris entered the school with explosives and guns, killing 12 students, a teacher, and themselves and causing extensive damage to the building. (“A Colo. Community Looks for Answers After Deadly Attack,” April 28, 1999.)

The district is now paying to beef up security for each of its 143 schools. And there will be long-term counseling needs for its 89,000 students and 11,000 staff members, as well as repairs to the Columbine High School building. The district’s insurance is expected to cover part of the repair costs, which could include everything from mending walls to buying books ruined in the melee.

Jefferson County school leaders had already planned budget cuts before the shootings. In fact, officials had originally scheduled a news conference for the day of the incident to announce cuts in personnel, transportation services, and athletics.

The Columbine situation added to an already serious budget problem, district officials say. Just last year, Jefferson County residents defeated a $34 million levy that the district had hoped would help pay for day-to-day operations.

Colorado Gov. Bill Owens has authorized $1 million in disaster-relief funds for the county, $500,000 of which will go to the district and the rest to local law enforcement. Superintendent Jane Hammond suggested other possibilities for funding last week. The state board of education is considering providing $600,000 to the district. And President Clinton, who is planning a May 20 visit to Columbine students and the families of the victims, has pledged $1.5 million in federal disaster-relief aid to the school system.

Police continue to comb through Columbine High School and are following thousands of leads to determine if others helped Mr. Harris and Mr. Klebold plan or carry out their attack.

The more than 50 explosives planted in the school caused many of the injuries, but the 15 people who died--including the gunmen--all were killed by gunshot, the county coroner’s office said.

The county sheriff’s office has said the teenagers likely did not act alone. More clues to any accomplices--including a possible third gunman--may come from the analysis of fingerprints on bullets, guns, and explosives removed from the scene.

Mark E. Manes, a 22-year-old former Columbine student who was charged with selling to a minor the semiautomatic handgun used in the assault, was released from a Jefferson County jail last week after posting a $15,000 bond. If convicted of the felony charge, Mr. Manes could serve up to six years in prison and be fined up to $500,000, according to Steve Davis, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office.

As of late last week, police were continuing to investigate what role, if any, Mr. Manes might have had in the shootings. In a Denver newspaper report last week, Robert Ransome, a lawyer for Mr. Manes, said that his client had no idea what Mr. Klebold and Mr. Harris had planned and that he was “horrified” he had provided a gun to the teenagers. Mr. Manes was scheduled to appear in court on the gun-sale charge early this week.

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A version of this article appeared in the May 12, 1999 edition of Education Week as Columbine Students Return to Class; District Finds Itself in Debt

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