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Cost of putting police in Valley schools $3.4M for 1st year

Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Pond Security Site Manager Sal Chiusano wands Highlands sophomore Chelsea Ganss with a metal detector as she enters Highlands High School on Friday, Jan. 25, 2013. In the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting, districts are grappling with the idea of armed security guards for schools.

By Jodi Weigand and Rachel Weaver
Monday, Jan. 28, 2013, 12:11 a.m.
 

Training and stationing a new police officer in every public school in the Alle-Kiski Valley for one year would cost taxpayers millions, a Valley News Dispatch analysis shows.

Schools across Western Pennsylvania have considered adding officers to their hallways since Adam Lanza killed 20 children, six adults and himself at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14.

If officials opt to place a new officer in each of the 77 school buildings in the 15 school districts that serve the A-K Valley, the bill would come to about $3.4 million. That's based on average training costs and first-year salaries.

The number of districts opting to place an officer at schools is rising steadily, officials say.

“There is a lot of activity right now,” said Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers, based in Hoover, Ala. “There is a different kind of fallout because (the Sandy Hook shootings) happened at an elementary school. Departments and districts are looking at ways to add resource officers.”

Days after the Connecticut school shootings, Butler Area and South Butler school officials obtained emergency permission from a county judge to allow the retired state troopers already patrolling school grounds to carry a firearm.

Before then, 118 of the state's 498 districts used armed guards, according to the state Department of Education.

It's not clear how many districts statewide have added armed guards since the shootings, because the Department of Education tallies those numbers annually.

The South Butler School Board authorized spending $15,000 to increase security coverage from 1½ positions to two full-time positions for the rest of the school year, spokesman Jason Davidek said.

The addition brings the district's total security budget for the 2012-13 school year to about $104,000. That includes salary, benefits and $1,700 for contracted services to cover special event security.

Tuition to train a new recruit at the Allegheny County Police Training Academy is about $4,000. The average starting salary of an officer nationwide is $40,500, according to the Bureau of Justice.

Police officers who will be stationed in schools can receive additional training through the National Association of School Resource officers.

According to the organization's website, a 40-hour basic training class will be held in Bethel Park this week. Cost is $495.

The state does not require additional training for resource officers, said Tim Eller, Education Department spokesman.

State law does require districts to get a judge's approval to arm officers and grant them arrest powers. The state Department of Education defers to local districts on the issue.

Specialized job

Canady pointed out that the terms “school resource officer” and “security guard” are not synonymous.

Resource officers are sworn law enforcement agents. Most resource officers are department veterans with at least three years experience, he said.

“It is designed for a veteran police officer,” he said. “With a new person in any police department, you're not sure what you're getting. They have to have the right temperament. You can't do that with someone new. It's really best for veteran officers.”

In addition to increasing security, resource officers serve as mentors to students and help with crime prevention education. They also assist in policing school events.

A portion of resource officers make more than their peers, depending on the department, Canady said.

“Some offer a slight pay increase for being assigned to a specialty unit,” he said.

Varied circumstances

Highlands School District expects to spend about $86,800 on security this year.

The district contracts with Pond Security for four full-time security guards during the school day. The number of guards for evening or weekend events varies on the type of event and the expected crowd, said district spokeswoman Misty Chybrzynski.

In Plum, the school board is considering whether to add school resource officers. Plum police Officer Mark Kost has been a resource officer for nearly a decade, Superintendent Tim Glasspool said.

The district pays $76,000 for Kost, and the borough picks up the remainder of the cost. That remainder wasn't immediately available.

“We've just started having those conversations this month,” Glasspool said. “We're trying to discern the correct course of action.”

Allegheny Valley, Leechburg Area, Burrell and Kiski Area school districts also are reviewing their security plans and getting residents' input.

“Our district is unique in that we're only two blocks away from the police station, but with the latest tragedy, everyone is looking at school security,” Leechburg Superintendent Jim Budzilek said.

It could cost the district about $20,000 a year to pay a security guard to patrol the district's school building, he said.

“It's something that's not currently budgeted, but can you really put a price on school safety and student safety?” he said. “If the board chooses to go that route, we would find the money.”

Jodi Weigand, Rachel Weaver and Bill Vidonic are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Weigand can be reached at 724-226-4702 or jweigand@tribweb.com. Weaver can be reached at 412-320-7948 or rweaver@tribweb.com. Vidonic can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

 

 
 


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