NEW BETHLEHEM – Experience appeared to be the deciding factor Monday night as Redbank Valley School Board members, in a split vote, agreed to rehire a Kittanning firm for school security this year, rather than going with the local New Bethlehem Police Department for the service.
At their Aug. 5 meeting, school directors heard a last-minute proposal from New Bethlehem Borough to provide a School Resource Officer (SRO) for the upcoming school year.
Mayor Tim Murray was on hand to make the presentation to the school board, which had also received a proposal from Armstrong Security & Investigations of Kittanning, the firm which provided resource officers for Redbank this past school year.
Murray said that for $48,000, the borough would supply one full-time officer for the school district throughout the school year, noting that the cost would also include crosswalk duties before and after school, saving the district another $2,600 per year. He also said that the cost would include a police vehicle that could be used between school buildings, and that no mileage would be charged to the district.
“We want to hire more full-time officers,” Murray said of the borough’s plan, which he said also included encouraging officers to stay with the department in order to become familiar with the community and the schools. He said the department is also working to add a K-9 handler and dog, which could be used at the school for unannounced locker checks.
Murray emphasized that the police department would focus on building relationships with students and teachers, and that the officer assigned to the school would benefit from the backup of other officers in the department if needed.
Board member Bill Reddinger questioned if the police department had any experience in a school setting. Murray replied that if hired, the officer that will be assigned to the school would attend specialized School Resource Officer training.
Member Dee Bell also questioned the borough police rates for providing security at after school events, noting that the amount went up significantly from last year.
“That was way out of whack,” he said of the costs.
Murray noted that the borough had to raise rates because it raised the pay for officers in an attempt to keep them from leaving the department to take better paying jobs.
Later in the meeting when the item came up on the agenda, superintendent Dr. John Mastillo recommended sticking with Armstrong Security for the 2019-2020 school year.
“We know where we sit,” he said of the company used last year. Although he commended the borough for putting a proposal together for the services, he said: “Unfortunately, I don’t think they know what they’re walking into.”
Board president Chad Shaffer and member Darren Bain spoke up in favor of the New Bethlehem proposal, noting that it was less costly than Armstrong’s rate of $49,999 for the year.
Bain pointed out that the New Bethlehem rate also included the crosswalk services, and said that he was confident the local police department could handle the job.
Shaffer said that while he thought Armstrong “did an OK job for us” last year, he was in favor of going with New Bethlehem Police because of the cost savings and the opportunities it presented in the community.
In the end, Armstrong Security was hired in a 5-3 vote, with Shaffer, Bain and Reddinger casting the opposition votes.
On Tuesday, Mastillo explained that the security contract is for one officer this year, down from two officers last year. He noted that the district has applied for grants that could help pay for additional officers if the funding is awarded.
• Mastillo said that a proposal to form a co-op with Union School District regarding the Redbank wrestling program has been put on hold. He noted that Union didn’t want to consider any monetary compensation for the co-op.
• School board member Darren Bain cast the lone vote against the revised district policy regarding tobacco use by students. He questioned if the rules were “fair and equitable” for athletes and those who take part in extracurricular activities, noting that those students receive an additional punishment that is not applied to students who do not take part in extracurriculars. District solicitor William E. Hager III said he saw no legal issues with the district’s policy.
• Shelby Groff was hired as a confidential secretary to the superintendent at an annual salary of $25,000.
• Stasha Misko and Madison Harmon were hired as highly qualified aides at a rate of $9.71 per hour.