School officials, local leaders discuss PA security

June 27th, 2015 1:28 am

First Posted: 3/8/2013

Pittston Area officials met with municipal leaders and police chiefs Thursday night to discuss improving security at the schoool.

Discussions began with the suggestion that district municipalities provide officers to the district, with the district picking up 70 percent of the tab. The talk switched to the district starting up its own police force, or at least a security department.

Participants agreed some sort of resource officer is needed in each school.

“We’re looking at the potential of putting a school resource officer in every one of our schools,” Pittston Area Superintendent Michael Garzella said. He said the district currently has nine security guards none of whom are armed.

“I’d like to hire a lead person and put the other pieces in place after that,” Garzella said. “We need a leader with the experitse to drive this whole thing. They can form the relationships with all the municipalities and help it evolve. We’ll look at the cost and look at the training involved.”

District officials at the meeting inlcluded Garzella, Board President Charles Sciandra and board members Bob Linskey, Marilyn Starna and Robert (Casey) Donahue. Municipal officials included Pittston Mayor Jason Klush, Pittston Police Chief Robert Powers, City Manager Joe Moskovitz, Duryea Mayor Keith Moss, Duryea Police Chief Nick Lohman, Jenkins Township Police Chief Frank Mudlock, Jenkins Township Supervisor Joe Zelonis, Hughetown Assistant Chief Darrin Bidwell and Dupont Councilman Stanley Golembiewski.

Avoca and Pittston Township did not send representatives. Garzella said Avoca is not intersted in participating.

Smaller municipalities, such as Duryea and Dupont, say they’re already cash strapped and can’t afford to pay extra for school police.

“It’s just not in our budget,” Moss said. “We can’t come up with a lot of extra money.”

All agreed that enhanced school security is a Greater Pittston issue.

“It’s Pittston Area School District, not Pittston City School District or the Duryea School District,” Powers said.

Linskey said borders are gray within the district.

“Children that are in the district are all from all of the towns in the District,” Linskey said. “Duryea Police, for example, have a responsiblity to protect the Duryea children. Same with Jenkins Township. Pittston.”

Members discussed how Wyoming Area and Wilkes-Barre Area handle security. Wyoming Area has its own department and Wilkes-Barre Area has an agreement with Wilkes-Barre City and pays for part of the School Resource Officer’s salary.

Members debated whether they wanted officers to be fully trained in Act 120, or trained in Act 235, which allows security officers to carry weapons but they don’t have arrest powers. Also, a combination of both was discussed.

Any officer the district employes would be required to attend school rescource officer training.

“We’re seeing if communities have the resources to participate with either a person or financially,” Garzella said. “We want to work with everyone. We are all one.”

Discussions have centered around the district picking up 70 percent of the salary and benefits and the municipalities picking up 30 percent. The officers would be available to the municipalies when school is not in session, especially in the summer. Security for summer events was also discussed.

“We would prefer to move in that direction, as opposed to Wyoming Area, which has their own force,” Garzella said.

Garzella said limited state funding could be available. If Gov. Tom Corbett’s plan to privitize liquor stores passes, the district may recieve a $2.2 million boost over four years and one of the areas the district can use the cash is to increase security.

Corbett said he plans to pour $1 billion into a four-year “Passport for Learning” block grant program to help districts.

Funds could be used for school safety and security efforts, including training for employees, enhanced security measures, including cameras and lighting, and partnerships with local law enforcement.