WALLENPAUPACK - Looking to further secure Wallenpaupack Area School District students from violence, administrators have asked the School Board to consider the hiring or contracting of armed officers.
"The world has changed," Superintendent Michael Silsby remarked at the Board meeting Feb. 11. Following the shooting tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT last December, in that initial week he said school officials received a great amount of input from concerned parents, wanting to know what security initiatives are in place.
"There was a lot of panic," Silsby related, "Rightly so." During that first week, a lot of parents asked if the school district could place armed officers in the schools. Although the initial public alarm has waned since that first week, Silsby commented, "That week could happen tomorrow."
Wallenpaupack administrators have been researching other regional school districts, including Western Wayne School District which contracts with the Pennsylvania State Police, and Delaware Valley School District, which for a few years has hired "school resource officers."
Silsby also plans to inquire of Hawley Borough Council about the availability of contracting Hawley Borough Police to station officers at the schools.
Impede the perpetrator
Their goal, Silsby said, is to be able to impede a dangerous person as much as they can in the time it takes for law enforcement to respond to the scene. That could take 10 to 15 minutes, Silsby cautioned, during which time "a lot could happen."
Citing an often heard remark since Newtown, Silsby added, "The only thing to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."
While not favoring arming teachers or administrators, Silsby said they are also discussing whether to have mace and stun guns on hand, to help slow down a perpetrator.
Board member Robert Schwartz said he had not heard any requests to have armed personnel.
Silsby stated that he didn't favor the idea in the past, but has become supportive in light of recent developments.
Could be costly
As needful as some may feel an armed presence would be, the School Board must weigh the costs to taxpayers.
Western Wayne pays $90,000 a year to contract one State Police trooper, based on the PA State Police over-time rate. The advantage of this is the cost includes training, equipment, insurance and the vehicle all in one package, but the price is high, Silsby noted. The hourly rate for a trooper comes to $72/hour.
He said that at Wallenpaupack, administrators feel that three officers would be needed, one at South Elementary, and two for the north campuses.
At Delaware Valley, Silsby said, the security chief earns "$50,000 to $55,000" a year plus benefits; the other officers each earn "40,000 to $45,000" a year, with benefits. They also have some part-time officers to fill in.
Provide a deterrent
One of the board members asked about whether a uniformed or plain-clothes officer was more desirable.
Silsby commented that in his opinion, a uniformed security presence with marked vehicles would help serve as a deterrent. He added that school resource officers need to be the right kind of people, who are not only skilled but good with working with children. It is important for the officers to establish a relationship with the students, he said.
According to the National Association of School Resource Officers, these officers are specially trained, carefully selected, full-time law enforcement officers who work in schools as their primary assignments. They are much more than armed guards. They develop relationships with students and staff and participate in the education of students.
The hope of Wallenpaupack administrators is that the school district would not be attractive to someone bent on violence, because there is a visible, armed security presence.
The Superintendent asked the Board to consider the proposal and whether the security force would be developed gradually. He noted that the cost of armed security is not in their current budget discussion. He said they would like to start the program with the 2013-2014 school year.
"If we do it next year, we are going to need some dollars," Silsby stated.
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