The Cost of School Safety and Security

b-501The Octorara Area School District Board of Directors held its monthly Regular Meeting on August 18, 2014, as well as the Finance Committee and Policy Committee Meetings. Only six Board Members were in attendance at the Regular Meeting. Sheri Melton, Shawna Johnson, and Leon Lapp were absent.

During the Regular Meeting, the Board approved all listed recommended action items, including hirings and changes in status. The only questions raised (first by me, then by Mr Ganow on my behalf) was that of several low-wage, hourly staff members… where they all collective bargaining positions (meaning, with wages defined under union contract)? They all were.

Why did I ask this? If you go back to my July 22nd post you will notice I got a little wild hair growing about the number of hourly employees at Octorara that are making less than a living wage. I wrote, base on what I spoke about at July’s meeting,

We live in a District with a very high percentage of Economically Disadvantage and, in my opinion, too many of the District’s own employees are getting paid less than a Living Wage. There are many that would say $10.20/hr is too low for Chester County, but this would be a step in the right direction.

We have, in my opinion, two distinct dichotomies within the Octorara School District. On one hand, we have the average Classroom Teacher being paid an above average salary, and far above neighboring districts. On the other, we have hourly employees that are being grossly underpaid for their level of service and commitment.

I don’t favor living wage legislation, nor do I support minimum wage laws. However, whether one is a government agency or a private business,  I do believe in paying a person a reasonable salary for the work they do, and I do not think that is the case at the moment for Octorara.

Do I think a teenager at McDonald’s flipping burgers should be paid $15/hr? No! Do I think the staff at Octorara, who work with our kids day in and day out, should at least get paid $10.20/hr? Absolutely!

Is Student Drug Testing Coming to Octorara?

After reviewing Lampeter-Strasburg School District’s Drug Screening Policy, the Policy Committee this evening instructed Dr Newcome to begin working on a version that makes sense for Octorara. If implemented, there could be random testing for all students who participate in extra-curricular activities or who have a pass to drive their car to school.

Lampeter-Strasburg’s program costs $12,000 per year to implement. Why would we spend this money? Because a Drug Screening Program addresses a real issue within the District, as apposed to a “ghost shooter.” (You may find it hard to believe, but “ghost shooter” was not at all my words.)

Looking at this was pushed by Brian Norris, and is something I can wholeheartedly get behind. It is a real student safety issue based on realities which exist in our area, not false fears.

Signal 88 Awarded Armed Security Officer Contract

The vote to award the Armed Security Officer Contract was not specifically scheduled for a vote at this week’s meeting, but a motion to award the contract was made by Samuel Ganow to end what was becoming a circular discussion on the topic. The contract was awarded to Signal 88 of Octorara with a 5 to 1 vote, with myself as the only “no” vote.

So, why did I vote no?

  1. After last week’s Facilities Committee Meeting I felt the prime reason extra attention and scrutiny was given to the bids was because Signal 88 of Octorara was perceived to be a local company. Some of my colleagues disagreed this was a prime motivator, but even in some of the comments this evening I was still left thinking this was the case… intentionally or unintentionally.
  2. The bid provided by Signal 88 of Octorara included 2 addresses… one in Wilmington DE and one in Parkesburg, at a home. In an email, I asked Dr Newcome to find out the details of these two addresses, and which was the actual place of business. The response spoke about there being a location in Downingtown, and made mention the the owner often works from home, but it did not answer the specific question asked.
  3. I don’t know, with 100% certainty, what company will actually be doing the work. There are many individual companies that are “Signal 88.” If one does a bit of research on Signal 88, you find a company that seems more interested in selling franchises than anything else. The unanswered question is what kind of franchise is Signal 88 of Octorara? It could be anything from operations being run out of a person’s home to a sales agent franchise that does not technically provide any services itself, which could account for why the cost is 22% higher than the others.
  4. I believe the argument by the Administration that “the other companies did not have experience with armed security in a K12 environment” was trying to thread a needle. The reality is that a condition of the contract was to provide a Security Officer who was a retired Police Officer or Military with at least 15 years experience. Why did we include this as a condition of the bid? Ultimately, we trusted the experience of the individual over the training programs provided by any security firm. In fact, we asked for more experience from the Officer than years Signal 88 has been in business.
  5. With all the numerous issues at a neighboring school district, I believe it is in our best interest to avoid, as best we can, even the slightest notion that things are not on the up and up. Add to this mix, the owner of Signal 88 of Octorara is a former School Board member (something I was not aware of until recently) and will be paid a considerable amount more than what others would have charged the District. For me, there are too many Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How questions left unanswered for me to say we have all our i’s dotted and t’s crossed. There is always going to be a fringe element that sees a conspiracy around every corner. However, I believe this vote leaves the door open for even reasonable people to question motives.

Fees Charged by Booster Clubs

For the purposed of the Sunshine Act, at the end of the Board Meeting I disclosed an email conversation I have been having with Dr Newcome over the last several days.

Last Friday, I had a parent come to me concerned with the fee being charged by a Booster Club for Jr High Soccer. The fee was stated to be $300, and this parent believed it was excessive compared to private sports organizations. I didn’t know any of the very specific details about this, and my response was that I would get more information and get back to this person.

Dr Newcome provided a perfectly reasonable explanation. Back in 2008, after years of discussions, it was agreed by the parties involved at the time that if parents who wanted “school teams” would agreed to fund those teams then the Board would sanction their play as an official school team. This began the Booster Clubs that then started fundraising. With some sports having a difficult time fundraising, some chose to implement a fee, or a combination of fundraising and a fee.

This may be me becoming hypersensitive because of issues in a neighboring school district, but I immediately wanted information about how much autonomy the Booster Clubs have, their structure, and accountability checks. Waiting for Dr Newcome to respond these questions, I did some of my own research.

It is my understanding that a Booster Club is an independent organization created for the purpose of fundraising for some school specific activity… sports, club, trips, and so on.

From what I have been reading, Booster Clubs cannot limit participation in school activities. They cannot require membership, and they cannot mandate participation in their fundraising activities. Ultimately, based on my limited research, what is being called a fee could possibly be more correctly called a donation.

I have asked Dr Newcome to look into this further to (1) make sure I correctly understand the role of a Booster Club with any limitations, and (2) to help provide me with the peace of mind that there are no looming issues that may come up and bite the District at some point down the road.

Ultimately, these are independent organizations. We can legitimately say that we have nothing to do with their activities, and maybe even no real legal responsibility. However, we all know that even a well intentioned mistake could spiral out of control, and if that were to happen people will be asking the District for answers and accountability.

There is nothing wrong with seeking a layer of insurance and not just taking money without question. If we have the potential to fix an issue before it becomes a major problem, I believe we have that responsibility. Trust but verify is always a good policy.

48 thoughts on “The Cost of School Safety and Security

  1. OUTRAGEOUS is the word that comes to my mind regarding awarding the security contract to the HIGHEST bidder! I am SO disappointed in the board members who voted in favor of this action. Additionally, I will be disappointed if Mr. Mango accepts the award. He should bow out this year and re-bid on the contract next year. For those board members who want to support local businesses, feel free to do it with your own money, but not with the Octorara Taxypayer’s money in general.

  2. And, please Mr. Alexander, find out if awarding the contract to the HIGHEST bidder is legal. What’s the point in soliciting for bids if the board is going to award the contract to the company they want to have it, rather than to the lowest responsible bidder. I am asking you to let us know if this was legal.

    However, it certainly wasn’t ethical.

    • As I understand things, a school district is not required to bid for security services if what is being provided is only a service.

      But, since we did bid it out, are we required to take the lowest bid? I think if we were, it is well established that a Board has the right to reject a bid that is not of the same kind and quality. This goes back to my threading the needle comment.

      Despite the fact the other bidders had experience providing security to universities, hospitals, and government agencies, and they had experience providing unarmed security in K12 schools, the other companies did not have specific experience with armed security in a K12 environment. Those who made this argument, or agreed with it, would say Signal 88 was therefore the only qualifying bidder.

      Of course, I did not accept that argument, which is one of the reasons why I voted against. A condition of the contract was to provide a Security Officer who was a retired Police or Military with at least 15 years experience. We trusted that experience over the training programs provided by the security firms. As I noted before, we asked for more experience from the individual Officer than years Signal 88 has been in business. If we asked that the individual officer had specific experience as an Armed Security Officer in a K12 environment, then I think their argument would have greater merit.

      Fundamentally, I just believe I think about these issues very differently than some others. When I brought up looking into how Booster Clubs operate, and possibly providing some checks and balances, Lisa Bowman immediately jumped to the conclusion I was advocating for eliminating the sports program… which I have no idea how she came to that idea.

  3. At the previous meeting, the board did not award the bid because they did not believe there was enough information to exclude any of the Security Firms from consideration. Between the previous meeting and last night’s meeting, what additional information was obtained by the Board that prompted them to select the company with the HIGHEST bid?

    Thank you so much for your patience and efforts in addressing my comments. Just trying to understand where the board is coming from.

    • I would say that ultimately, not much “new” information was given from my point of view, with Eschelon Protection providing the most. They provided some additional references, descriptions of related school focused training courses and the instructors, images of uniforms, and protocols for their officers at a school.

      It was alluded to last week that the Eschelon and Security Guards Inc did not have armed experience in schools. This week the statement in Dr Newcome’s Recommendation read “the references we checked…could not speak to any any experience with ‘armed services’ in any environment.” However, the ultimate determination was that neither Eschelon nor Security Guards had experience with armed security in “public school buildings” (a very specific statement), but in the meeting it was stated no armed experience in a K12 environment.

      Signal 88’s references went back to 2011. They listed 5 school districts other than Octorara, and only 2 were identified as armed… CCTCHS-Pennocks since 2011, and Downingtown SD since 2013. I had thought at last week’s meeting Dr Newcome reported that Kennet and Oxford were also armed, but that is not supported by the documents I have reviewed. Oxford is described as a “School Police Officer,” and that title may assume armed. I don’t know, but the others specifically stated armed. Regardless, we are talking about only 3 years of limited experience with armed in a K12 environment.

      So, ultimately, it would appear the only really new information was the reference check process, and the attempt to determine armed security experience.

  4. Ethics violations are more common in our area because nobody has the guts to go after these people and bring them to justice in my opinion…Whats next? Martial law..lol

    • “Conflict” or “conflict of interest.” Use by a public official or public employee of the authority of his office or employment or any confidential information received through his holding public office or employment for the private pecuniary benefit of himself, a member of his immediate family or a business with which he or a member of his immediate family is associated. The term does not include an action having a de minimis economic impact or which affects to the same degree a class consisting of the general public or a subclass consisting of an industry, occupation or other group which includes the public official or public employee, a member of his immediate family or a business with which he or a member of his immediate family is associated.

      • Joey,

        Mr Mango is no longer a Board Member, and no longer has even the possibility of using the authority of his past office for his benefit of himself today, or the benefit of a member of his immediate family or a business with which he or a member of his immediate family is associated.

        My concern was that having been a former Board Member could be construed as a practice of favoritism, especially since Signal 88 was highest bidder, which is something different than what you describe.

        Anytime a person with many social, business, or political friendships and connections receives an appointment or contract, others are going to question if that what that person received was merited or was it because of who they know… sometimes it is justified, sometimes it isn’t.

        If Signal 88 was lowest bidder, there would be no basis for arguing. However, they were not only not the lowest, they were also considerably higher than others. Add to that, the other two companies were primarily disqualified based on a very specific item (armed experience in a K12 environment) that, if this was to be the prime qualifying factor, should have been used to prescreen candidates before asking them to submit a bid.

        And that takes me back to what I wrote in my post…

        “With all the numerous issues at a neighboring school district, I believe it is in our best interest to avoid, as best we can, even the slightest notion that things are not on the up and up. … For me, there are too many Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How questions left unanswered for me to say we have all our i’s dotted and t’s crossed. There is always going to be a fringe element that sees a conspiracy around every corner. However, I believe this vote leaves the door open for even reasonable people to question motives.”

        When I ran for this office, I ran on a promise to focus in on greater transparency and accountability on matters including contracts. Heck, before being elected, I even accused the District of favoritism and clique loyalty. It should be no surprise to anyone that, as a Board Member, I am hawkish on eliminating even the perception of it.

      • I’m not saying that Pete committed the ethics violation, But I believe Dr. Newcome may have in my opinion.

      • Only the a person’s first post normally gets held for review. After that, they should post automatically unless bad language is used. I have no idea why wordpress held it again, but it is approved now.

  5. I am also disappointed the bid was awarded to Signal 88. How convenient. It doesnt take a fool to see what happened here. Sadly, just more of the same. This better be a damn good armed officer in my children’s school!

  6. BTW, it is my understanding from friends with children in the Unionville CF district that they also have some form of security officers. Not sure if they are armed or not…

    • Back in June, five members of the Board (Lisa Bowman, Brian Norris, Samuel Ganow, Hank Oleyniczak, and Nelson Stoltzfus) voted to authorize the administration to develop a job description for an Armed Security Officer and prepare the process for the hiring of the position. Sheri Melton, Shawna Johnson and myself voted not to authorize. Leon Lapp was absent and did not vote.

      On Monday, those same five members (Lisa Bowman, Brian Norris, Samuel Ganow, Hank Oleyniczak, and Nelson Stoltzfus) voted in favor of Signal 88. I was the only vote against. Sheri Melton, Shawna Johnson, and Leon Lapp were absent from the meeting.

      • I read some reviews about Signal 88, and I don’t think they are qualified. Here is a quote from an employee that hits the nail on the head in my opinion.

        Pros
        Very easy job. Basically, you drive around in a Nissan X-Terra all night. 3 days a week is pretty much full time.
        Cons
        Constant lies and run around from management. Will tell you they did something, and forget, then tell you something totally different a few days later. Serious problems with payroll. Had to wait a month between checks. They are supposed to be every two weeks. I was told daily, after the payment should have been here, the check is in the mail!!! Did finally receive it. Was missing hours. Sexual harassment is rampant. The managers harass each other. Talk about their sexual experiences in front of staff. Management doesn’t take job seriously. Actually stated, “this is just a paycheck for me. I don’t give a f about this job”. Would not advise anyone to work there. Trucks are constantly breaking down…flat tires, expired plates, no engine oil…what a mess?
        Advice to Management
        Train middle managers! They kind of care about Signal, but not at all about their employees or Wanzek.
        Middle management – don’t be my buddy, be my boss. Stop screwing around at work and then writing bs reports to cover yourself. Behave how you expect your employees to behave.”

        Added: http://www.glassdoor.com/Reviews/Employee-Review-Signal-88-Security-RVW4632887.htm

        You don’t always get what you pay for!

  7. The above review or “quote” has nothing to do with our local Signal 88 franchise. We greatly value our team members.

    • Pete we don’t know why your bid was so high…please explain to the tax payers. And since we are talking about the above review lets ask you why you are not personally doing the job, but rather hiring someone at $12.00 an hour to act as security.

      • Our pay-rate for retired, or off duty police officers, or retired Troopers is set by the market. It’s what I need to pay to attract and keep highly trained staff as armed Law Enforcement Based (LEB) Officers. That pay-rate is in the $20’s..add training, uniforms, body armor, equipment, and liability/WC insurance etc. This accounts for the “higher” bill rate. But it really isn’t an “Apples to Apples” comparison because none of the other firms are currently working at this high a level.

        Additionally our patrol vehicles are by far better than the competition with Code 3 light bars, two (always on and recording) Dual Vision cameras, A GO-Light spotlight, a Panasonic Toughbook, Sprint Wifi, GPS, speed and G-Force alerts.Our reporting, time and attendance, payroll and billing is via a proprietary software,Inteliguide. Inteliguide has Android and IPhone apps that allow officers to punch in/out with time logging, GPS and geo-fencing. There is also a text message and location bulletin function.

        We were Signal 88 Security’s franchise of the year two out of our five years in business, and have consistently been in the Top 5 of Signal 88 Security franchises nationwide.

        We will NEVER be the low bidder, but we will always be the BEST VALUE. I will not compete in low bid RFP’s because usually what suffers is the employee’s pay-rate, and then of course the quality of services rendered.

        Every time there is an act of school violence, our liability insurance increases and many carriers won’t cover school day security. So there is a price that I pay in order to get this coverage.

        Our training is beyond compare…just in the last two weeks, as we gear up for the new school year, our unarmed officers have completed Crisis Prevention Institute de-escalation and non-violent crisis response training. Tomorrow they are attending training on how to respond to school active shooters, and last resort disarming techniques. Many are also trained in the Raptor visitor management and access control/ID system used for visitor check-in and clearances.

        Our armed officers will soon be attending training on an active shooter response protocol consistent with what is taught to all County police officers, by one of our instructors. He is the deputy commander of a local SWAT team and nationally recognized as a police trainer.

        All have completed the DHS Active Shooter class.

        I invite folks to see and follow our page on Facebook, Signal 88 Security of Pennsylvania and Delaware.

      • Pete why are you personally not performing the security yourself?

        I thought we were paying for you to watch over the students?? Your company is not worth the extra 22 percent in my opinion. I don’t understand how there is a “market” for a retired officer’s with experience??….sounds like you took advantage of a terrorist attack and found a way to profit from it in my opinion.

        I don’t want someone with no experience walking the halls of a school where my children are attending, and I don’t want to see my taxes go up in a few years because you need extra security when you figure out that there is to much area to cover for one security guard. As a tax payer I want a full written statement from each board member explaining why they chose your company in writing to explain to me why they voted for your bid. Personally I believe it is a conflict of interest because you are in fact buddies with Tom Newcome, and this behavior is without a doubt disturbing. I truly believe you are a great guy Pete, but your services are not needed in my opinion.

  8. As I wrote the above reply, one of the top three security companies in the USA, referred their client to us for a short-term, plainclothes, concealed carry armed officer at a corporate site in Malvern in response to a threat of work place violence with an employee termination. This happens often! Even our competitors in the marketplace recognize the quality of our armed services.

    We started there this afternoon..

    • So you are needed when a person gets fired from a job in case they decide to go crazy and tell off their old boss? I guess that is a great reason why we need signal 88, but it sounds like an employer was looking for a cheap way of protecting themselves from a former employee who may have an attitude because they were fired…How does this make your company the best choice? Does Octorara intend to fire people soon? I’m not sure why you need a concealed carry license either if you intend to carry a gun regardless because you are already known as being an “armed guard”.

  9. This may be a stupid question but..are the bids open for negotiation? Could the school board have sat down with Signal 88 to try and get the cost down?

    “Our reporting, time and attendance, payroll and billing is via a proprietary software,Inteliguide. Inteliguide has Android and IPhone apps that allow officers to punch in/out with time logging, GPS and geo-fencing.” Is this software a one time purchase or an ongoing monthly fee for Signal 88? Just wondering why it would be a cost passed on in the billing to Signal 88 customers when it is really just benefiting Signal 88 – esp. if it was software that was purchased and not associated with a monthly maintenance / IT support fee.

    Have to say that I think this is a waste of taxpayer’s money and a false sense of security for many parents in the district. A kid / person who is intent on performing an act of random violence will not be impeded by one security officer on a campus as large as Octorara’s.

    • Chief Wilmot, of the West Fallowfield Police Department, made very similar comments when he spoke to the Board back in June. He stated that an individual who wants to cause damage or harm will not be dissuaded by armed security, and will take that into consideration when planning an attack. He even gave an example of a recently reported incident in the news as an example. He never stated the District should not get security, but did say his recommendation was placing a greater emphasis on issues of Student Mental Health, Bullying, Drugs, Anti-Violence and other issues that contribute to violence before considering armed security.

      As far as negotiating the price, I don’t believe we had that option because there were other bids involved. However, since the other 2 bidders were deemed to not be qualified, that may not be the case. Don’t hold me to that.

      • Was “armed experience in a K12 environment” listed as one of the requirements in the bid specs for the security service?

      • I’m curious to understand what exactly were the two companies not qualified to do. According to both of their sites, they provide armed and unarmed security for schools K-12.
        http://www.epsagents.com/who-we-serve?post=321
        http://www.securityguardsinc.com/School_Security.htm

        … apparently at a cheaper cost. I’m sure another factor in the choice, besides being Newcome’s BFF is that they were already utilizing Signal 88 for it’s traffic control. Regardless of the cost, and I’m sure Mr. Mango provides professional, quality service… it’s still a waste of time and money.

      • The Facilities Committee, on August 11th, instructed Dr Newcome to confirm each bidder’s experience with Armed Security in a K12 environment. Dr Newcome’s written recommendation to the Board, on August 18th, stated that through both reference checks and his own interviewing process that only Signal 88 had experience with Armed Security within “public school buildings.” Moreover, Dr Newcome noted a reminder that he informed the Committee on April 17th (long before the vote to create the position, or bids were asked for) that Echelon had confirmed to him they had no prior experience with armed security at all. Echelon’s extensive experience with schools and school districts was nullified by Signal 88’s very limited armed experience over the last 3 years.

      • I’m just wondering if a few phone calls / emails to the companies who lost the bids would garner some information…when you look at their websites and the lists of schools who currently use them I’m left scratching my head as to why they weren’t good enough for Octorara.. and usually when something doesn’t make sense – somebody isn’t telling the truth.

      • As an activist, I probably would have done that very thing. As a Board member, I have a certain responsibility to take information presented in good faith. Therefore, if the report received by the Board states that the other candidates have no experience with armed security in the K12 environment, then the presumption must be they don’t. I can question why these companies where invited to bid, or why more wasn’t done upfront to find qualified candidates, but we have to have faith the actual information presented is correct and accurate to the best of the Administration’s ability.

      • Thanks Tim. I want to emphasize that my questioning of the contract has nothing to do with Signal 88’s expertise. As I stated before, I’m sure they will provide quality service. I just think that if things are excepted without questioning, especially things where there can be the impression of favoritism, I don’t think we as tax payers are doing our job keeping the board honest.

  10. As i recall Octorara won a grant for 40,000 the first year and 20,000 the second year for a security officer.A month or two later it was turned down by the school board.Then in late june the school board voted to establish a security officer which you voted against thanks.Why the change in direction and why spend 60,000 of tax payer money . Tim please correct me if i am wong thanks again for keeping us posted.

    • It was a close vote not to accept the funds, but the reason the grant was rejected was (1) it would pigeonhole the District into one solution, (2) the $60,000 was for last school year and we would only be able to receive what we spent (at most $10,000), (3) the $20,000 for this year was not guaranteed but we were still required to maintain the position, (4) some Board Members, including myself, did not believe there was not enough community involvement in the decision.

      Now, the “community involvement” portion is something I have also been critical of because “community involvement” turned out to be limited to parents of active students only, ignoring the taxpayers and the greater community at large (parents of children not yet in school, grandparents, etc). The survey that was conducted has become (in my opinion) an embarrassment and travesty. It is held up as proof that a majority of parents wanted armed security, without anyone wanting to look deeper into the why.

      While the survey shows that majority of parents supported armed security, it was based on misguided opinions and false facts. One example was that of parents who favored armed security, a majority believed their child was not reasonably safe going to the bathroom during class. Another was the belief that children were not reasonably safe in the cafeteria during lunch. The responses would have one think we were an inner-city school district with an extreme violence problem. In addition, the survey exposed that the average parent had no idea what the district had or had not already done in the area of school safety.

  11. Not only is this security not needed and highly expensive, but they are based out of Omaha NE? This is not a local company folks, and the extra 22% is a slap in the face. Here is one of the signal 88 guys sleeping on the job taken Friday Sept 26th while the buses were running.

      • This was investigated on Friday and we pulled the video. The officer was sick and it was clear that she wasn’t alert and performing as required around 8:30. So we aren’t billing the school for either of the Friday shifts.

      • Pete with Eric Frein on the loose I would say your company, (which is not local because it is out of Omaha NE) failed to perform it’s duties. Why does it matter that the billing will be adjusted? It seems that all you care about is money, and you are getting 22% more than what the other securities offered to perform the same duties. I think a petition is needed to remove your company from the campus asap for not performing the duties stated on your contract.

  12. OMG, late the very first day of school and now caught sleeping on the job. is this the kind of top notch service going with the highest bidder gets you? Not billing the school for the shift will be a big comfort when something happens to my kids. It must be nice to have friends in high places.

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