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Editorial: The arithmetic of student safety divided by retirement costs

| Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018, 6:03 p.m.
Hempfield Area High School (Tribune-Review / Dan Speicher)
Hempfield Area High School (Tribune-Review / Dan Speicher)

It’s sad that Hempfield Area School District is creating its own police department.

It’s sad that a police department is something a school district requires. It’s sad that it’s something that even has to be thought about in connection with a place where kids are learning and growing up.

It’s also necessary, and it’s an important and proactive step that Hempfield Area is taking.

What is tragic is the two votes against the department.

The votes against would be fine if they were being made because the directors didn’t believe the police officers were necessary. It would be fine if the issue was, gee, there just aren’t enough reasons to have a police force.

That was a part of why the two directors said they opposed the action.

“I just feel the things were working well under the process we had in place. I didn’t see any compelling reasons to take any action at this time,” said Paul Ward.

But Ward also had another reason: money.

The cost of retirement for employees has been a steady concern for school districts across the state for years. It’s not something that is going down. It is, admittedly, something that everyone from the governor to the Legislature to superintendents and board members have been fighting with a whip and a chair.

Another board member, David Iwig, said hiring the police actually saves money. Right now, the people who will be badge-wearing, weapon-carrying officers are still on the property. They are security guards who are performing much of the function without all the authority. Iwig says the move saves Hempfield $34,000 over contracting with them.

But that’s not what makes it sad.

The gut-punch is the calculus of balancing the lives of kids against dollars and cents.

Hempfield is a hopscotch from Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville, where 22 were injured in sophomore Alex Hribal’s stabbing attack. That was four years ago, but apparently that is long enough for some people to forget.

The great debate no one wants to actually have about violence in our schools keeps coming down to a few potential tourniquets to stem the bleeding. One of them has been a police presence.

Hempfield Area’s decision to put kids’ lives and well-being as a top priority is a good thing, something that could teach students a little bit about their worth and instruct other districts looking for a template to provide a safe educational environment.

It’s just sad that it wasn’t unanimous.

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