Monday 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.
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.
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.