Budget & Safety Discussions Continue

school safety discussionsMonday evening’s Facilities Committee Meeting, which started at 5:50 pm, was moved to the Jr. High School Multi-Purpose Room, in anticipation of a larger than normal turnout, and was immediately followed by the Octorara Area Board of Director’s Work Session Meeting.

The primary topic of the Facilities Committee Meeting, which flowed into the Work Session, was the continuing discussion on Safety. On hand to give their input, and answer Board Member questions, was Chief Sheller of the Parkesburg Police Department, Chief Wilmot from West Fallowfield, and representatives from Signal 88.

Chief Wilmot was the first to speak. He explained that he has 27 years of experience, and has regular interaction with the District on an ongoing basis, with the Intermediate and the Jr/Sr High within the boarders of West Fallowfield Township. He stated that West Fallowfield responds to various calls and regularly patrols the District during the day.

Wilmot stated, in his experience, it is those children who are bullied, or have other issues, when they are younger that then act out when they get older. Addressing these issues early is essential to avoiding problems later.

Referencing a recent school shooting in Vegas, at a school with armed security, the Police Chief stated that once a person decides to commit these acts, armed security will not be a deterrence, and that the best way to avoid school violence is to focus on children when they are young, through intervention. He stated that, in a majority of cases, committing suicide or dying is the Active Shooter’s planned end-game anyway. They will not care if there is an armed officer.

Parkesburg’s Chief Sheller informed the Board that his Police Department is currently responsible for responding to the PLC and Elementary School based on their contract with Highland Township, which he does not see changing anytime soon. If Parkesburg were to contract with the District to provide either a School Police Officer, or School Recourse Officer, there would only need to be an inter-municipality agreement with West Fallowfield.

The Board questioned Sheller about coverage during times when Parkesburg was not patrolling Highland Township, or when the State Police were providing coverage. Chief Sheller was explicit in his reply… the Parkesburg Police Department has a vested interest in Octorara, with resident children attending, and they will respond to any Active Shooter call no matter who the County dispatches, either in Highland or West Fallowfield.

Chief Sheller also stated that if the District decided to contract with the Parkesburg Police Department, they have a fully trained and certified School Resource Officer already on staff.

Signal 88 representatives provided their sales pitch to the Board. While their presentation stated that there is not one solution, there did not seem to be any scenario that did not include an on-campus security officer. It was their opinion, that no plan could be fully formed or comprehensive without on-campus security center stage. What else would one expect a for-profit company to say?

During the Budget portion of the Work Session, Shawna Johnson stated that there has been many security infrastructure items put on the back-burner because the District does not have the money to pay for them. The question she struggles with is, how do we justify spending $80,000 for a Security Officer when we don’t have the money to keep up with the security items we have in place now? …pointing out also that the only reason the District is able to replace aging surveillance cameras is because of a grant.

I then reminded the Board, that while Chief Wilmot did not object to the use of Armed Security, he was explicit in stating the greater emphasis should be focused on issues of Student Mental Health, Bullying, Drugs, and other issues that contribute to violence. What is being discussed is how to react to an incident, but the greater focus should be on prevention and our aging/outdated infrastructure.

Dr Newcome stated the District did, about 8 years ago, have a person whose sole role was Bully Prevention, but the position was cut due to budgetary issues. This exemplifies Ms. Johnson’s point! She stated in her comments that she believes some people are under the false impression that a Security Officer will be a replacement for other vital security needs, and worried those needs will then be further ignored.

Mr. Ganow provided a solution for those who believe a Security Officer is little more than a false sense of security, taking limited funds away from more needed projects. Those who believe this way can, next week, vote for the $150,000 for a Security Budget and then against the creation of the Security position. The District will then have $150,000 dedicated to Security that can be used to reinforce, upgrade, or acquire new security infrastructure, or that can be used in prevention programs… like Anti-Bullying, Student Mental Health, Anti-Drugs, and Anti-Violence programs.

Dr. Newcome recommended that the Board vote for Armed Security. He stated that at the beginning of his conversations with the Safety Task Force parents that he was opposed, citing the statistics showing the rarity of gun violence in schools and the District’s budgetary limitations. However, he stated, what turned him was that he had no good answer to the argument of response time. That “if” something were to happen, he had no good reason for the deaths that could occur in the hypothetical difference between 5 and 6 minutes.

Budget Update

The 2014-2015 Budget, that the Board will vote to approve adoption next week, is $49.2 Million. While this is “only” a $1.7 Million increase over the current Budget, it will be in fact an estimated $2.7 Million increase over the 2014-2015 Actual Costs, which are expected to end at $46.5 Million.

The largest portion of budget increase comes directly from Employee Benefits, and of that primarily from the defined-benefit retirement plan.

Included in the 2014-2015 Budget is the creation of an Internal Service Fund, with a $500K transfer, to help manage the drastic increases to Healthcare costs.

The millage rate in Chester County will be unchanged at 36.66, and Lancaster County will decrease to 26.43. However, the “favorable” millage rates are created by using $1.6 Million of Reserve Fund Balance. If an Armed Security Officer is hired, the entire cost will be paid by the Reserve Fund, which is expected to be fully depleted within the next 4-5 years.

Visitor Comments

Stephen Spoto, Parkesburg, spoke about the quality of the recent Safety Poll. He is also very concerned that there is not an effort to pull people other than parents of current students into the conversation, and upset that parents of students of the IU program, nor the teachers and doctors have been asked their opinions. He wanted to know why only parents of current students were asked if they were willing to pay the higher taxes, but that the whole community affected was not asked if they thought it was a good use of their tax dollars. In later comments, Mr Spoto also asked what can be done about Common Core, making note that other states have been opting out.

Mr. Jerry Zimmerman, Christiana, thanked the Board for continuing to work of Safety, stating that many of the Safety Task Force members did not initially understand nor agree with the previous vote, but are now thankful the Board is having a thoughtful discussion and looking for solutions that best fit the District. He also stated that the members of the Safety Task Force will not go away, and will continue to lobby for what they feel is important.

13 thoughts on “Budget & Safety Discussions Continue

  1. I knew Parkesburg PD was foaming at the mouth for work, but this is just plain old comedy in my opinion. Go ahead hire Chief Sheller, but make sure you tell him to move into the borough as required by law before he tries to do his job there…What a joke!

    • I can assure you that Chief Sheller was in no way actively soliciting for the contract. His only statements in that regard were the Parkesburg Police had the capacity if using an SRO was the decision of the Board.

      In fact, the one thing I did not hear from either Chief was the statement that they believed it was essential or there was a need for armed security at Octorara. The closest they came to that was when Brian Norris asked if one guard would be enough, and all agreed.

      Chief Sheller and Chief Wilmot were both very objective with their statements, and very focused on providing concise, fact-based answers.

    • I don’t understand your statement of the “Chief having to live in the borough as required by law before he tries to do his job there”?

    • From what I’ve read “residency requirements were traditionally considered a term and condition of employment and, as such, they were subject to collective bargaining under Pennsylvania law.”
      City of Chester v. Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 19, 615
      A.2d 893 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1992)

      • There is no such residency requirement for the Parkesburg Police Department. These are determined by each municipality.

      • The chief has a contract separate from the rank and file and can be renegotiated year-by-year, but there is no such requirement in the current chief’s contract and there is none in the current rank and file contract. In most instances where these types of requirements have been added, they have been phased in to allow employees the opportunity to make the arrangements to sell and purchase property that can sometimes be lengthy. If that is something a majority of residents want they would definitely need to make that case to the Borough Council in a way that council understands it is a majority opinion. Otherwise, don’t look for any changes. Keep in mind when past practices span decades its usually reasonable to know why you want to make such a change. Wanting to do it after 20 years or more “Just because” usually doesn’t convince anyone. If you think contract demands change and are less lucrative just because the employees live in the municipality and have to pay the taxes you might be surprised to look at places like Philly. I think it is fair to say that resident requirements do not have an impact on salary expectations. They are more frequently influenced by the cost of living. Raises won through arbitration are similarly based most effectively on cost of living. I’m not saying a residential requirement is a bad idea, I’m just saying it won’t change the cost of services to the taxpayers.

      • The Chief’s contract doesn’t really matter, and has nothing to do with the law, so if Mayor Hagan gives him all these privileges for example a take home car to Narvon Pa every night even after he caused an accident with a police cruiser with his family in the car…I would say it is time to put that law into affect immediately in my opinion. The Parkesburg Police are not trained in the event of any attacks regardless, and the idea of allowing them to bring guns in the school makes me think I should home school my kids, nieces, and nephews. Who ever pushed for all those extra buildings should be responsible for paying the salary of a resource officer in my opinion because now we have several building to protect from what a kid that was bullied by the students and harassed by the teachers because they didn’t come to school wearing Hollister clothes…give me a break! We don’t need a resource officer period.

      • I don’t want to belabor the point, but the law does not specifically “require” residency and the Chief’s contract does matter because to require residency it would have to be incorporated in his contract. Given that he has more than 20 years of past practice the Borough would have to show a compelling reason to change the conditions of his employment.
        It is also NOT correct to say Mayor Hagan gives the Chief anything. He has no power in regards to personnel actions. These conditions and benefits are the discretion of Borough Council. Likewise, the contract for the rank and file is negotiated and signed between the Council and the Association, not the Mayor. This means the collective “wisdom” of at least 4 members of council is required for any conditions or benefits of employment in Parkesburg.
        Regarding the issue of the training of the Parkesburg Police, you may be surprised to learn the full extent of the training they actually have in these areas. Besides, there has been no decision to engage the Parkesburg Police in security at the school. The budget hasn’t been passed yet and that’s the first step. I would suspect they would then need a Request for Proposals for the service from interested parties and there are very rigorous guidelines for how contracts of this magnitude are awarded. Parkesburg Borough Council would have to authorize the police to even put forward a bid for the contract and as far as I know that discussion has not even started.
        As far as armed security in the schools are concerned, I am one of a very small number of residents of Octorara who has actually gone on record (more than once) at the school board meetings against this move. My position is and has been focused on prevention and supporting troubled kids to avoid the need for violent intervention.

  2. It seems like Chief Wilmot came the closest to what I believe. When resources are limited it is better to focus on PREVENTION than reaction. The Superintendent stated we used to have a bully prevention program and it was cut for budgetary reasons. I have listened to and respect the concerns about response time from concerned citizens and the Superintendent. Dr. Newcome stated he had no answer to the response time concern. For me, the most obvious answer is prevention. We just saw yet another example of this that just played out with police officers being murdered. The neighbor of the perps went on TV apologizing for not notifying police of the comments she heard prior to the rampage and the concerns she had, but did not act on. The prevention of these types of incidents can be drastically improved, but by concentrating on response time we will “perhaps” create an even more important need for response because we will have missed the opportunity to prevent. In all the conversations about response what I hear is minimize the damage to as small a list of victims as possible. This has always been my focus. I say reduce it to zero by focusing on prevention which I believe is the very best response.

    • Prevention programs focusing on Student Mental Health, Anti-Bullying, and Anti-Violence have an even greater impact.

      The CDC reports, with youths between the ages of 10 and 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death, resulting in approximately 4600 lives lost each year, and approximately 157,000 receiving medical care for self-inflicted injuries at Emergency Departments across the U.S.

      Compare those statistics to that of school shootings. The representative from Signal 88 stated there are roughly 1 school shooting a month, never placing that statistic in context.

      However, there are 383 suicides of young people every month. The vast majority of kids that crack don’t bring a gun to school, they end themselves.

      These children are literally being Bullied to Death… but they don’t capture the headlines. Why? Because it is not sensational… it is not spectacular… it does not capture the attention…it is not “news worthy.” Can you believe that… 383 deaths a month is not news worthy!

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