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Security costs expected to skyrocket at Penn Hills schools

Tony LaRussa
| Thursday, Aug. 12, 2010

The cost of providing security in Penn Hills schools this year is expected to increase by more than 30 percent from last year and be nearly double what the district spent in 2008.

The school board on Monday selected OSA Global of Green Tree to provide security for district schools at a projected cost of $450,000.

OSA Global was started by Michael Orsini, a former employee of Specialized Security Response of Castle Shannon, the company the board hired last year to handle security -- and correct problems that had plagued the district for years. The district's lax security resulted in more than 300 high school students signing a petition in spring 2009 saying they felt unsafe in school.

The district paid SSR about $340,000 for security services last year. In 2008, Leonard Security of Braddock Hills had a contract worth nearly $232,000.

Board President Joseph Bailey said the significantly higher cost this year is an effort to bring in "higher caliber" security officers.

"We found that with the security teams that we've had in the past, we've gotten what we paid for," Bailey said. "When you ask for an $8 an hour employee that's typically the work you get. If you pay $16, you typically get a different caliber of people."

Another of the four finalists for this year's contract -- School Safety Solutions -- also was created by a former SSR executive. SSR also was a finalist along with Murphy Security Group of Penn Hills, according to Richard Liberto, director of business affairs.

The district will pay OSA Global $15.91 an hour for security guards. The contract doesn't specify what guards will earn, although Richard Liberto, director of business affairs, said they likely will receive about $13 an hour.

School Safety Solutions sought $18.25 an hour for guards, with SSR charging $17 an hour and Murphy Security Group $11 an hour.

Board member Donald Kuhn Jr. had proposed that the matter be tabled, but following a closed-door session, the board hired OSA Global on a 6-3 vote, with Kuhn, Linda Gallo and Catherine Mowry dissenting.

Kuhn complained that the administration failed to provide board members with copies of the proposals submitted by the security firms.

"I cannot vote for a contract for hundreds of thousands of dollars and not even see the proposals," he said.

Interim Superintendent Stephen Vak said board members should have asked for the proposals when the recommendation to hire OSA Global was made during an Aug. 3, executive session.

The district received bids from nine security companies. A committee consisting of two Penn Hills police officers, the high school and middle school principals and the district's director of child accounting narrowed the field to four and made the final recommendation to hire OSA Global.

Board member Robert Hudak said the board's reservations likely stemmed from the split that occurred with SSR.

"Security was great in the beginning, but after a period of time, it fell apart ... because there was a split up of the firm," said Hudak.

Officials with OSA Global did not return repeated messages from the Tribune-Review seeking comment.

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