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Plum School District hires security firm with ties to board member

Michael DiVittorio
| Thursday, May 3, 2018, 4:45 p.m.
Plum School District.
Plum School District.
Former Plum High School ROTC teacher Scott Kolar heads into the Dormont Municipal Building on Thursday, May 21, 2015.
James Knox | Trib Total Media
Former Plum High School ROTC teacher Scott Kolar heads into the Dormont Municipal Building on Thursday, May 21, 2015.

Plum School District officials tapped a California-based company, which is recruiting a member of Plum's school board, to conduct a facility safety and security assessment.

Plum's school board voted unanimously during a public meeting April 24 to approve a deal with Bay Area Risk Management not to exceed $12,000.

School director Scott Kolar, one of nine associates listed on Bay Area Risk Management's website, did not announce his connection to the company before the vote was taken during the school board meeting.

Bay Area Risk Management president and founder Marianne Alvarez said Kolar has been with the company for “not long,” and is not being compensated.

“He cares about his community and his school,” Alvarez said.

She said some of her associates are paid contractors, and she hopes to eventually sign Kolar to the paid team.

“Scott Kolar is not an employee of Bay Area nor under contract, is not related to anyone in my company and has never received payment nor has my company,” according to a letter from Alvarez obtained by the Tribune-Review.

Kolar, a U.S. Air Force veteran, acknowledged being an associate of the company because he is a certified ALICE assessor.

ALICE stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate. That training involves preparation for active shooter and other emergency situations.

“I've never received a dime directly or indirectly in the past or currently,” he said. “All I've ever wanted is the most effective assessment to keep our kids safe. It's not about me doing anything.”

Kolar also said “the board didn't have to be informed” of his connection to the company because there's no conflict of interest.

Even though Kolar is certified to do the work, he said he could not assess the district himself because that would involve a contract and become a conflict of interest.

Superintendent Brendan Hyland said he does not see a problem with the connection or Kolar's vote.

“There is not a conflict of interest because he was not contracted to do this work,” Hyland said via email. “In fact, as a trained assessor his knowledge was helpful to our discussion.”

A message sent from district solicitor Bruce Dice's office to Hyland also indicated there was no conflict with Kolar's vote because he's not an employee and does not have a contractual relationship or familial ties with Bay Area Risk Management.

In addition to Kolar's military background, he has a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from Texas State University and a master's degree in public administration from Washington State University.

State Ethics Commission Executive Director Rob Caruso said just because Kolar is not being compensated does “not necessarily” eliminate a conflict of interest.

Caruso said state law requires public officials to abstain from participating in discussions and voting to award contracts that he or she, their immediate family members or businesses they own or are involved in or would benefit from.

Caruso said he could not speak directly about Plum's situation in case there is ever a state ethics investigation.

Plum received an $11,500 bid from Bay Area Risk Management and a $15,000 bid from Corporate Security and Investigations of Monaca.

Bay Area Risk Management provides the district with ALICE training, something Hyland listed as a factor in selecting the company.

“This assessment is an important first step in making our schools as safe as they possibly can be,” Hyland said. “In order to get better and safer, we can't be afraid to learn about our vulnerabilities and our potential weaknesses.”

The assessment will begin May 14 and should take about four days.

“We don't want to be a report that's there on a shelf,” Alvarez said. “(Security's) always an ongoing process. You must always be keeping an eye on it.”

The board in previous months discussed having state police do a safety assessment for free.

Hyland said the state trooper who was scheduled to do the assessment could not complete it until the fall of next school year.

“We felt it was very important to get an expert external assessment done prior to the end of this year while students were still in school,” Hyland said. “We want to use the summer to review the findings and to do our very best to implement the expert recommendations into our procedures and safety plans.”

The district is in a transition phase for the 2018-19 school year. It will close Regency Elementary School and relocate students.

Pivik and Center elementaries will house kindergarten through fourth grade, and Holiday Park Elementary School will get fifth and sixth grades as part of the plan.

All the elementary schools now serve children K-6. The junior and senior high schools will not be affected.

District officials also cut kindergarten from full to half day starting next school year.

Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-871-2367, or via Twitter @MikeJdiVittorio.

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