Octorara School Board Votes to Reject Security Grant 

In a split 5-4 decision, at the April 14th Work Session Meeting, the Octorara Area School Board of Directors has voted to reject the $40,000 grant from Pennsylvania for a Police Officer on campus. Those voting no to the grant included Lisa Bowman, Brian Norris, Sheri Melton, Shawna Johnson, and myself.

shutterstock_7272448-290x290However, those rejecting the grant were not all of one mind on their reasoning. The opinions ranged from that of Brian Norris, who saw the grant as forcing a vote the Board was not yet prepared for, to that of Sheri Melton who expressed concerns about unintended consequences. Several members, myself included, were also concerned that Armed Security takes very limited funds away from much needed security infrastructure upgrades, while creating a program that was not financially sustainable over the long term.

However, the biggest issues seemed to be:

  1. The grant ties the District’s hands into one option. While much of the grant left things undefined, the grant was specifically for a Police Officer (not a School Resource Office or Security Officer) who was an Independent Contractor, and retired Police or Military.
  2. There was no specific job description.
  3. It would have required the creation of the Octorara Area School District Police Department, which had not been mapped out, and which we have no idea what the consequences that action will cause.
  4. It removes the ability of other options, including contracting with a local Police Department or hiring as a District employee.
  5. The District would only be able to spend about $10,000, returning $30,000, with no guarantee of additional funds next year. Yet, it obligated the District to continue the program for 2 years.
  6. Overall, the grant just did not give the District adequate time to perform due diligence.

The Board has instructed Dr. Newcome to move forward on this Action Timeline:

  • April 15-29 — Survey Tool placed online to be completed.
  • May 7 — Community Conversation
  • May 19 — Oral Report to Board Directors regarding Feedback On Community Conversation
  • June 9 — Board Discussion and Superintendent Recommendation
  • June 16 — Budget Vote
    • No Vote on Security Officer – Remove $80,000 from Safety Budget
    • Yes Vote – Will require a second Action Item to provide Superintendent with direction on type of officer to be funded.
      • Armed Officer/Unarmed Officer
      • School Resource Officer
      • School District Employee/Outsourced to local PD or Vendor
  • June 17-July 7 — Superintendent develops Plan Recommendation/Job Description
  • July 21 — Board approves Plan Recommendation/Job Description
  • Aug 18 — Board approves hiring/contract

Interestingly enough, there was an explicit statement, made by a grant supporter, that those who voted against this did so for political reasons, and that Liberal or Progressive biases played some part. Sheri Melton, probably one of the most Conservative members of the Board, took exception to the characterization stating she just had a different opinion and came to a different conclusion.

I’m not sure how abortion or Conservative values became part of the dialogue, and while School Director is a non-political position, for the record, I am…

☑ Republican
☑ Pro-Life
☑ Pro-Second Amendment
☑ Fiscally Conservative
☑ Pro-Constitution
☑ Pro-Military
☑ Limited Government advocate

Some may classify me as a Libertarian Republican, because I don’t believe in social policies that encroachment on individual liberty. I believe that one person’s rights end where another begins, and government has no business legislating things that are clearly a personal freedom issue. However, Armed Security is not a Republican vs Democrat, or Liberal vs Conservative issue.

Having gotten that out of the way, my opinion is an armed person adds an element of risk and danger to our children greater than the likelihood there will ever be a shooter at one of our schools.

We know, during a given school year, there will be on average 3 school shootings every month… every month!! That is scary!!  It becomes more so the way these events are exploited by news organizations.

However, we also know that schools are safe places, probably the safest place for a child to be, and the vast majority of schools will never directly experience a shooting. You don’t hear that on the evening news.

Any violent death is unacceptable, but we must try to keep everything in perspective. School associated violent deaths are at a rate of 1 per 2.7 Million students per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Even as a representation of all violent deaths for school aged children, those that are school associated are only between 1% & 2% which includes suicides.

Children are at a greater risk of being hit by lighting… which, according to the National Weather Service, is 1 in 700,000 for any given year, and 1 in 5,000 over his/her entire lifetime. I don’t say this to belittle tragedies, but to place the reality of school violence in perspective.

It is not the Wild West out there, even outside of schools, but you wouldn’t know it from the Google News feed. A recent Pew Research report cited FBI statistics showing a steep drop in the incidence of violent crime, and the lowest rates in more than four decades. My opinion is we need to place into perspective the difference between possibility and probability.

I believe our limited tax dollars would be better spent on school culture programs (ie anti-drug, anti-bullying, & such) and security infrastructure. Prevention is, from my point of view, the greater return on investment.

In other news…

Overshadowed by the Security Grant talks was Daniel Carsley’s Budget update. An additional $500,000 has been added to the the 2014-15 Draft Budget to cover new costs and newly discovered increases to items such as the hiring of new Instructional Assistants, projected increases to Healthcare, Workers’ Comp, Charter School Tuition, and other items.

Out of the Facilities Committee, there will also be an additional $120,000 added to the budget for recommended items from the Long Range Plan, and $1.4 Million added (but taken from the Capital Fund) for building improvements and upgrades.

The Board was presented with a cut list, which was asked for at the last Finance Committee Meeting. Some items that could be cut to save the District money include the elimination of Kindergarten, reduction in teaching staff, elimination of the Summer Reading Program, and more. Lisa Bowman stated in the meeting, “The list shows how little is left to cut, and we are bare bones.”

Next week, the Board will be voting to approve the resolution for the Proposed Final General Fund Budget for the 2014-15 school year.


5 thoughts on “Octorara School Board Votes to Reject Security Grant 

  1. Last night’s meeting was interesting and on some level disturbing. Interesting in that many in favor of the grant seemed to want to demonize those who were against it. I say this because perhaps the loudest applause of the night came following Mr. Lapp’s comments which characterized a society gone crazy and blamed everything on a lack of God in the hearts and minds of presumably those who are against armed guards. He went so far as to characterize “communism” as the next step in our society.
    This in spite of the fact that communism has been collapsing worldwide for decades and is at an all time low. What communism has to do with school guards or the lack there of is a line that is very difficult to connect, yet following this discourse he received a rousing round of applause. Having lived through a time when streets were ablaze all over this country, when the US Capital was shut down by protesters, where innocent children were gunned down by the Government on college campuses, when women had to fight for the right to vote and people of color were not even afforded basic human rights of freedom and liberty, excuse me if I don’t see today in the same clouded pessimistic light.

    Ms. Melton was verbally confronted about her vote as it was pointed out that armed guards patrol West Chester University where she works. Few heard her comments about an article in the Associated Press the same day as the meeting saying that rape and sexual assault happen at colleges of 10,000 students at the rate of 350 per year, or nearly one per day. The point being that armed guards do nothing to stop these types of attacks.

    Another glaring omission of fact is that the State government has not been reimbursing schools already for their obligations. Just Monday the Associated Press reported that schools across the state are protesting delinquent payments from the state for construction reimbursements. Schools are looking at needing to raise local taxes to make up for the state’s delinquent payments. It was said last night, but apparently lost in the fervor, why take on yet another promise of funds from the state when they are not currently paying their obligations and apparently do not intend to do so in the near future.

    If you look at the end of Mr. Alexander’s column here you will see that the school board is “considering” CUTS that could include teachers, kindergarten, and other programs that are the mission of the school. How it is ungodly or communistic to vote against a guard when these types of cuts are being considered at the same time I just don’t know.

    I attended the security committee meeting last week and I was moved by the parents attending and their position of wanting to improve response time in the event of a violent attack. Even though response times can vary wildly and predicting them is not a science to be sure, if the school board were to vote to have a guard on campus and that cost me an extra $12 a year, I would gladly pay it. I personally do not think it is necessary, but I will support the board and the parents and teachers if that’s what they decide in the budget. At the same time I would hope that it does not become necessary for any of us to attack each other based on our stances on this topic. I certainly hope that we can restore civility and optimism to the discussions.

    The world is not coming to an end! Society is NOT collapsing because we don’t have the grant. In point of “FACT” Dr. Newcome predicted last night’s vote for weeks. He also predicted that the budget would pass in the very near future with a fully funded guard position in place. The state has proven over and over again that they are cutting funding of schools and their current record of paying their obligations is terrible. Voting for the grant is like expecting a bank to offer a loan to someone who hasn’t paid their car payment or mortgage for years. We should only take on obligations that WE can afford to pay ourselves. I would hope that the board not pass a budget that includes a guard if they must cut kindergarten or teachers. In my mind that’s not communism, its just common sense.

    • I consider myself to be a Christian who very much believes in God and I am a parent in the district who supports the board’s decision to NOT accept the grant. I will also hope the board not pass a budget which includes a guard if that means kindergarten and other programs are cut. I was not at the meeting last night but as a community member and district parent it is disheartening to hear how the Task Force is treating those who have differing opinions. Having an opinion is one of the greatest basic rights we are given as human beings. How do we teach our children they are special individuals and it is okay to be different if we as adults cannot civilly accept differences? Our children learn from us, we must respect each other if we want our children to do the same.

      There are several reasons I am happy the board did not accept the grant. I agree it is hard to turn down “free” money but this grant would not have covered the full cost of one armed guard and it would have cost us, the taxpayers, more. The district would have been required to purchase an additional insurance policy, provide benefits, etc. This guard also would have been contracted to direct traffic in the afternoon, among other unknown things. How is a guard going to patrol and protect if he is standing in the middle of the street directing traffic? Octorara is also a large campus with 5 schools. How is one person effectively going to protect 5 buildings? I feel the community at large needs more time to discuss this issue,alternative solutions, etc. Those who reside in Parkesburg are already the highest taxed residents in the county and district. My family cannot afford to pay any higher taxes if we are to provide a good quality of life for our children and support our community.

      You cannot put a price on a child’s life but today’s “active shooters” and crazy people are not just in our schools. They are in our movie theaters, malls, community centers, driving on our roads, etc. Should we have an armed guard in every public place? Should we just shelter our children and lock them up in our homes? I hate to be blunt, but I could die today getting in my car or walking into a store. At some point I have to rely on faith as I wake everyday and prepare for the day ahead. I think any extra money the district has could possibly be better utilized funding programs that they continue to cut and/or to update infrastructure for better security.

  2. You continue to redeem the confidence of those who supported your campaign and elected you to a seat on the board, Tim. And I say that without regard to your vote on this matter, since I’m sure it was a difficult vote for all. Rather I say it because, in a larger sense, you are doing what you said you would do and what we expected you would do. You research the issues, invite opinion, look at and try to balance conflicting interests, bring your own thought to bear, and then let your conscience and love of community be your guide. Above all, you communicate. You bend over backwards to communicate. You listen to the people, and you report to the people. You are responsive, and responsible, rare commodities among public officials these days. So well done, so far. Keep up the good work. And while I don’t ascribe a lack of it to any board members, I do applaud the conscientiousness you have brought to the table.

    • Thanks! I would probably disagree with the balancing conflicting interests part, at least at this very moment.

      The grant forced every Board member to harden their position before the idea of Armed Security was fully vetted.

      I do understand the Task Force’s frustration though. They had been talking to Dr. Newcome for close to a year and a half. So, how is it that the Board was unprepared for the vote?

      The District applied for this grant last year. Why wasn’t a fully developed plan presented to the Board?

      Why did most of the Board as of March believe the grant was for an Officer next school year?

      Why wasn’t the grant for a SRO also applied for to give the Board a choice?

      Why wasn’t the grant for infrastructure also applied for?

      Even what the Board knew about the grant changed up until the day of the vote.

      First it was for an armed Police Office. When I asked if we could find out if armed also included nonlethal weapons, without a gun, the answer came back that the grant was worded in such a way that armed Police Office also included unarmed Police Office. So, now armed also means unarmed.

      We were told that it would require a security firm like Signal 88, but the day of the vote I found out from Mr. Oleyniczak that we could contract with a local Police Department as long as the officer was retired Police or Military. How can a person be both an active and retired Police Officer at the same time?

      Several people describe this as a Pelosi-esque “you have to pass it to know what is in it” kind of vote… and it absolutely was. All we really knew for sure was that we were voting to put a gun on campus.

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