New school security funding uncertain

The opportunity is out there, but it might not be the right opportunity here.

The Pennsylvania General Assembly has passed a bill expanding opportunities for schools to obtain grants related to school safety, but whether those opportunities are something the Warren County School District (WCSD) would pursue is a question that will require more information before an answer.

Senate Bill 10, which passed the House with amendments on Monday and has been sent back to the Senate for concurrence, expands what grants to target school violence can be used for.

While it does include an expansion of grant uses adding “emergency preparedness and all-hazards plans, including revisions or updates to such plans and conducting emergency preparedness drills and related activities with local emergency responders,” the remainder of the measure largely focuses on funding for school security personnel, such as school resource officers and school police officers.

“I believe it’s a good bill,” state Rep. Kathy Rapp, R-Warren, said. “I want our schools to be safe.”

According to newly-appointed WCSD Superintendent Dr. William Clark, however, the district will need to consider the issue carefully before applying.

“I don’t know what the past practice has been,” Clark said, citing the fact he has just arrived in the district. “The long and short of it is we’ll review the criteria and then make a determination on whether it’s something that would benefit the district.”

Targeted grant awards under Public School Code of 1949’s section regulating the Office for Safe Schools, which the bill amends, requires priority in grant awards be given to “a school entity designated as a persistently dangerous school” and “school entities with the greatest need to establish safety and order.”

According to Clark, this opens questions of whether any of the schools within the WCSD would even qualify for the funding.

The bill adds a requirement that priority be given to schools employing officers with additional specific training. That, however, is something that could increase the costs of employing such personnel.

The grants are open to municipalities, but only to employ school resource or police officers. The same priorities in grant approvals extend to municipal grant applications.

“It would be premature to say we definitely would or would not pursue this,” Clark said. “We’ll definitely review it and see if it’s something that would work here and, if so, make a recommendation to (school) board.”