Octorara Board Rejects $40K Campus Security Grant – Updated

Octorara Board Rejects $40K Campus Security Grant – Updated

Debbie Wygent, local reporter for LancasterOnline, has a good article on Monday’s school board work session in which the board concluded their months long debate over whether to accept a $40,000 state grant to hire a security guard, deciding instead in a close 5-4 vote, not to accept the money.

According to Wygent’s article, “the grant would have given the district seed money to put an officer on duty at no cost for the remainder of the school year. It also would have offset the cost of the officer’s services next school year.”

Wygent notes the board’s differing views of the sensitive subject in her article, a subject that touches debates about gun control, school safety, public education funding, and the area’s heavy property tax burden, all hot button issues in the community.

She quotes Board President Lisa Bowman, who voted to reject the grant, as saying she “needed more time to think about the matter”.

In contrast, Sam Ganow, who is usually a Bowman ally on most issues before the board, urged board members to take the state money. She chided the usually unified board, saying, “If we don’t take the money and something happens between now and the end of the year, we look like idiots.”

Ganow, together with board members Nelson Stolzfus, Hank Oleyniczak, and Leon Lapp voted in favor of accepting the grant, while Brian Norris, Sheri Melton, Tim Alexander, and Shawna Johnson joined Bowman in her vote to turn down the money.

Board members calmly listened as each of their fellow board members expressed their individual perspectives.  Board comments not captured in Wygents article included Hank Oleyniczak’s observation that the board had looked at campus security since the Sandy Hook incident last year, but had done little because of a lack of funding and community interest.

Noting the 30 or so members of the community in the audience in favor of accepting the money,  Oleyniczak urged board members to accept the grant.

“Tonight we have both funding and interest,”  Oleyniczak said, “We have free money and we should take advantage of it.”

“This [money] will make our schools more secure than they are today.”

Nelson Stolzsfus agreed with Oleyniczak, stating that a guard on campus would do more than just stop shootings. Stoltzfus noted that a security guard  on patrol would stop burglaries in the parking lot, as well as deter other criminal incidents.

“Somewhere along the way, we have to get started,” Stolzfus said. “This is money we can use to get started.”

“I would rather see us get started than do nothing.”

Observing the district’s budget and his own concern that one security guard might grow to several over time, Tim Alexander, the board’s newest member, observed, “If we get 4 or 5 guards on campus, you’re talking about a small police department, and we can’t afford that.”

The debate on how best to protect Octorara’s children, teachers, and staff against the threat of violence doesn’t end with Monday’s vote, however. Dan Carsley, the district’s Business manager, noted during Monday’s discussion that the district’s $48 million 2014-15 budget includes $150,000 earmarked for “campus security.”

Debbie Wygent’s entire LancasterOnline article is here.

4.16.2014 12:54 PM Update:

As board member Tim Alexander pointed out in a comment posted to Parkesburg Today: On March 22nd, the grant the board rejected Monday night, like any state grant, had strings attached.  When weighing whether to accept such grants, board members always take such “strings” into account.

Here is what Alexander wrote:

“There are strings attached to the grant . . . [including]  . . . who can be hired, and under what terms, and the duration of the program, among other things. It would also require the District to petition the court to create the Octorara School District Police Department. Even if we all agreed armed security was necessary, it pigeonholes the District into one solution that may not be the best for our District.

Also, we would only be able to spend about 10,000 of the 40,000 awarded this year, with no guarantees we will get the $20,000 for the 2014-15 school year. The current estimated annual cost will be about $70,000/year, not including equipment.”

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