Local school districts receive money to secure officers

January 24, 2014
Michele Able, left, is checked with a hand wand by security officer Robert Boyer while officer Danielle Adrian looks on at Finleyville Middle School Friday afternoon. Able’s daughter, Shelby, is in the eighth grade at the school. - Jim McNutt / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

Three Washington County school districts are among 81 entities across the state that were awarded a total of $3.9 million in grants for school resource and police officers.

Trinity Area School District, Ringgold School District and Burgettstown Area School District received a combined $119,725 to pay for one officer in each district.

The legislation for the grant was written by state Sen. Joe Scarnati and signed into law last year by Gov. Tom Corbett to address school violence and safety as part of the Safe Schools Grant Program.

Schools could apply for as much as $60,000 for a school resource officer and as much as $40,000 for a school police officer.

In both cases, the officers would have Act 21, or municipality law enforcement, training.

A police officer would be primarily tasked with providing security, whereas a resource officer, who could be a current or retired officer, also would work toward building relationships with students and assisting them in other ways.

School districts are required to fund the position for at least two years.

As long as the money is available for the 2014-15 school year, the districts would be able to receive 50 percent of their 2013-14 award without reapplying. Trinity was awarded $39,800; Ringgold was awarded $40,000; and Burgettstown was awarded $39,925.

On Thursday, Trinity used its allotment to hire former North Franklin Township police chief Rich Horner as a school police officer.

Dr. Paul Kasunich, superintendent at Trinity, said Horner will begin his duties in February. Horner will work with administrators, faculty, staff and students at all of the district schools to make sure property security and safety measures are implemented.

Karen Polkabla, superintendent at Ringgold, said that district used the funds to hire retired state trooper Jeffrey Gillen for Ringgold Elementary South over the summer.

Polkabla said the district stationed security guards and a police officer at the districts’s four schools following the Sandy Hook shootings.

In 2007, the district employed a director of security, who worked at the high school.

Burgettstown did not return calls for comment.

State Sen. Tim Solobay, D-Canonsburg, said similar funds likely will be offered in the future. He hopes additional schools will take advantage of the opportunity the grant affords.

“Everyone was made aware of the grant money,” Solobay said. “It’s frustrating in one sense that we had to cut back on education funding … but it is important for us to help (districts) provide a safe atmosphere.”

Francesca Sacco joined the Observer-Reporter as a staff writer in November 2013, and covers the Washington County Courthouse and education. Prior to working with the Observer-Reporter, Francesca was a staff writer with a Gannett paper in Ohio. She graduated from Point Park University with a dual bachelor’s degree in print and broadcast journalism.

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Karen Mansfield is an award-winning journalist and mom of five who has been a staff writer for the Observer-Reporter since 1988. She enjoys reading, the Pittsburgh Steelers, a good glass of wine and nice people.

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