The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

January 26, 2013

Boards aiming for safer schools

By Melissa Klaric
Herald Staff Writer

SHENANGO VALLEY — “In the future every school will be monitored from the school parking lots to the playgrounds,” in addition to cameras inside the buildings, said Wade Hoagland, director of facilities for Sharpsville Area School District.

“School safety is not a fad or trend. It will remain on the radar,” said Lora Adams-King, superintendent of Farrell Area School District.

School security has been on the radar of school officials around the country – and in Mercer County – since a gunman killed 20 students at a Connecticut elementary school in December.

In recent weeks, Sharon schools officials began negotiating with security providers and decided to add keypads to some building entrances. Mercer school directors started discussing hiring a guard or policeman for the first time. In Hermitage, a patrolman is already spending extra time in that city’s schools, and the board has committed to installing keyless deadbolt locks on all classroom doors.

On the agenda for Monday’s school board meeting in West Middlesex is a proposal to add another armed officer from Southwest Mercer County Regional Police Department.

Superintendent Alan Balderelli said the district already pays an armed resource officer to patrol the middle and high schools – housed in adjoining buildings – and to park in front of the high school daily. That officer is retired from Southwest police.

While the West Middlesex board will discuss whether to add an officer, Sharpsville school directors did add one, but also decided to revisit the issue of school security on a monthly basis.

For the first time this past week, an armed Sharpsville policeman was patrolling the hallways.

School board members Tuesday voted to have a policeman in the schools every day through the end of the school year.

Although the final vote was unanimous, board members worried whether hiring a policeman would be the best decision for the school environment, as well as the budget.

School Director Janice Raykie asked, “How is spending $9,000 making our kids more safe than they are now?” She called hiring a policemen for 15 hours a week a “very poor first step.”

Superintendent Mark Ferrara said school security is “not a perfect science” and he didn’t want to create high anxiety. He said he was advised by Sharpsville police Chief Keith A. Falasco and “other experts” to try to keep things as normal as possible.

As in Sharpsville and other Mercer County schools, Farrell school officials are concerned not only about how to improve school security, but also how to pay for it.

“We have every intention of having a security person return to the district,” Adams-King said, adding the district is “anticipating to receive money as a result of the governor’s budget proposal.”

“The issue could come up at the next school board meeting,” she said.