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Plum officials consider using armed officers in schools

| Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, 10:26 p.m.
(c) 2012 Lillian DeDomenic
Michele McKinzie checks in at the security desk manned by Dwight Locke. Parents and visitors must sign in and out when entering and leaving and leaving Plum High School. Lillian DeDomenic | For The Plum Advance Leader

A borough councilman wants police officers in all seven Plum schools.

“A Plum police officer with a uniform and gun is the best deterrent (to violence),” Council Vice President Keith Nowalk said last week during a monthly meeting of council and Plum School Board members.

Plum School District officials said before making a decision about more officers or other security measures, they want to study conclusions and recommendations from the shooting rampage Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 children and six adults dead.

The district has one school resource officer.

Plum police Officer Mark Kost is based at the high school.

Kost, resource officer for 11 years, also handles duties at the other schools including DARE instruction in the five elementary schools.

The district contributes $76,000 a year toward Kost's salary and benefits that is a total $143,405. The borough covers the remaining $67,405.

Nowalk proposed either hiring additional borough police and designating six as school resource officers or hiring retired police officers as was done in the South Butler and Butler Areas school districts.

A Butler County judge last month signed an order giving the districts permission to have their qualified school police officers — all Pennsylvania State Police retirees — carry their personal service weapons to school.

“It would be a big budget item,” Nowalk said.

Superintendent Timothy Glasspool said officials have evaluated the district's security and “shored up areas.”

“We've made physical plant upgrades,” said Glasspool who declined to discuss specifics.

District officials last week sent elementary school parents a note saying the elementary schools would implement a visitor management system, which is already in place in the middle and high schools.

Visitors would have their drivers licenses scanned and a background check conducted before they enter the building.

But Glasspool said officials have not discussed hiring additional staff including police officers.

Board President Andrew Drake said he doesn't want to make any decisions about hiring officers until he studies the conclusions and recommendations from the Connecticut school shooting.

Drake said he expects the FBI, the federal government, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Pennsylvania Department of Education to issue reports on the incident.

“It is premature to put armed guards in the schools before we learn the lessons,” Drake said.

Drake said security measures including making sure doors are locked and not propped open and checking in visitors to the schools have been “beefed up.”

“The objective is not to have the school district be like a prison with armed guards, metal detectors and bars on the windows,” Drake said.

“We have to evaluate it in a focused, planned methodology, not spur of the moment. We could spend a lot of money and not gain much benefit.”

Board member Sal Colella wants community input before making decisions about placing more officers in district buildings.

“Our children are the most precious things we have,” Colella said.

“We need more information and community input.”

Council and school board members endorsed the school resource officer program and Kost's work.

“The kids love him,” Colella said.

Councilman Steve “Skip” Taylor said Kost has a rapport with students.

“Many legal matters have been resolved because of him,” Taylor said.

Nowalk said if the district wants more resource officers, borough officials will make it happen.

“We will figure out a way to hire new police officers,” Nowalk said.

“I'm all for resource officers in all the buildings.”

Karen Zapf is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8753, or kzapf@tribweb.com.

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