Savings over school security

January 7, 2013

I read with incredulity the letter to the editor recently published in the Observer-Reporter, “A False Sense of Security” written by Trinity Area School District (TASD) board member Sandra Clutter.

Given its revisionist history, I feel compelled to respond to set the record straight concerning the recent history of the police officer position with the school district.

Clutter is correct that there has not been an armed security presence of any type employed by the TASD since the end of the 2010-11 school year. She is right that it has been almost two entire academic years since such a presence protected the district.

She is also correct that the district is not as safe as it once was. Trinity had a security presence in the district for about 30 consecutive years, since the early 1980s, and was one of the pioneers in school security in Western Pennsylvania for doing so.

Mrs. Clutter implies in her letter that the lack of an armed security presence is a negative for the district. I agree.

However, let’s look at the facts as to why there is currently no police presence at Trinity Area School District.

On June 29, 2011, at a board meeting to finalize the district budget for the 2011-12 academic year, Clutter voted with the majority to eliminate the school police officer position as of June 30, 2011, one day later, in support of the budget recommendations made by Superintendent Paul Kasunich. She had ample opportunity at that time to support security in the schools but chose monetary savings over school security.

When James Knapp, a board member, made the point that money was available in the reserve fund to save the job and other important positions, Clutter and the majority were not swayed by that opinion.

But did she not write that she has been �adamant� about school security for the last three years?

I was the TASD school police officer, legally empowered to be armed and with full police powers under the Pennsylvania Public School Code, from Nov. 16, 2009 – I was hired by the TASD Board prior to Clutter’s election – until the above-referenced vote on June 29, 2011.

Ironically, I provided police/security services for the meeting in which my police/security job was eliminated.

It was a memorable night to be sure.

Clutter claims that she has been trying to improve security at the school but is meeting resistance. I do not doubt her sincerity in that. We actually worked together to make some improvements during my tenure.

I question her decisions and methods.

Clutter does not seem to understand the reason for such difficulty making improvements. She, as a school board member, should understand that decisions have consequences. When the board eliminated a police presence for the district, it sent a clear message that security was less important than money. Given that decision, is it any wonder that security has in her opinion become lax at Trinity since? If the board does not care enough about the security of the schools to fund a school police presence, why should Clutter believe that the employees will place importance on it?

I can assure Clutter that had I still been employed with the TASD, such incidents as door security and weapons violations, which were rare during my tenure, would have been handled promptly and professionally.

Is Clutter using the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy to her political advantage, to simply score political points by riding the wave of concern for school safety? I hope not. The residents of the Trinity Area School District should decide that.

After all, 18 months ago she presented herself as a friend of the taxpayer, willing to cut the school police officer and other important positions in the district, such as the transportation director, to save money. Now, security seems all-important.

I have no doubt Clutter will respond by painting me as a substandard employee, who was eliminated for cause. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am proud of the work I did protecting the students and staff of the TASD. I had many years of school-based policing experience which I was able to draw on to perform my duties for the TASD. I also know I counseled and mentored many students and staff while I was there and was an asset to the district throughout my tenure.

The readers of the Observer-Reporter, and, more importantly, the residents of the Trinity Area School District, need to know the truth about this very important issue that is affecting the safety and security of the children and staff in the Trinity Area School District.

Michael W. Stoehr

Mt. Lebanon


Submit a letter to the editor