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School resource officer pay structure at Plum to be discussed

| Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

When a gunman went on a shooting rampage at a Connecticut school late last year, Plum School District officials turned to Plum police Officer Mark Kost.

Kost, the police department's resource officer for more than a decade, visited Plum schools and reviewed the district's crisis plan with staff members.

Both borough and school district officials say they support the school resource officer program. But council wants the district to pay more toward the cost of the program in which Kost, a Plum police officer for 23 years, serves in a law enforcement capacity and as an instructor and counselor.

Kost is based at the high school and handles duties at the other schools, including Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) in the five elementary schools.

Council last week tabled action on a proposed agreement with the school district for the school resource officer program. Councilmen said they want to discuss the funding structure with school board members during a meeting between the two groups expected next month or in early October.

“The borough wants to continue with the SRO program,” said council Vice President Keith Nowalk. “We want the school district to pay more of the cost.”

The school district since 2010 has contributed $76,000 each year toward Kost's salary and benefits that in 2014 are set to total $146,762, borough Manager Michael Thomas said.

According to numbers provided by Thomas, the district's contribution has remained constant while the cost of the officer's salary and benefits has increased over the past several years.

The district's annual payment of $76,000 represented 58 percent of the cost of the program in 2010; 57 percent in 2011, 56 percent in 2012; 53 percent in 2013 and 51 percent for 2014, according to the borough numbers.

Thomas said the district pays 50 percent of the cost of the program while having Kost for 85 percent of the available work-time patrol shifts in the police department.

Nowalk proposed more school resource officers in the wake of the shooting rampage Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 children and six adults dead.

District officials decided against adding resource officers and opted to consider ideas such as encouraging uniformed officers to have lunch with students and permitting officers to use space in Plum schools to write their reports.

School board President Andrew Drake said the district budget approved in late June included $76,000 toward the resource officer program. The district's budget year runs from July 1 through June 30, while the borough budget extends from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31.

Drake said he wants to discuss council's reasons for putting off action on the resource officer agreement. He said he supports the program.

“I think it is an excellent program,” Drake said. “I have seen the benefits of it through the years.”

Drake also said the district continues to review its security plan and has put into place improvements that he said are “behind the scenes” steps.

“There are no visible changes, no metal detectors,” Drake said. “Annually, we have local and state police and the Pennsylvania Department of Education security plan reviews.”

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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