York Suburban rejects state cash for school police officers

York Suburban Senior High School in Spring Garden Township, Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

York Suburban School District rejected about $330,000 from the state after its school board voted down a district proposal for a school police officer pilot program.

When state officials heard about the district's plans, they asked the school board to reconsider its decision.

"I think their first reaction was, 'What? We’ve never had this happen,' and they were more about … they came back and asked us, 'Could you provide further detail?'" said district business manager Corinne Mason.

The board, after receiving a safety and security grant through the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency for two school police officers, voted down its two-year pilot proposal for the officers in October.

At a board meeting Monday, Dec. 2, board members voted to stick to the decision and return the money to the state.

To keep the money, the district would have had to use it for the pilot program. Mason said she appealed to the state to see if the money could be used instead for structural security upgrades. When state officials said it couldn't, the board opted to return the money.

More:York County districts, private schools benefit from Safe Schools grants

More:York County districts shoulder burden as security costs become 'new normal'

The state decided the money would go back to its School Safety and Security Committee, which is under the PCCD, but first Education Department officials asked the district to reconsider handing back the funds.

"What’s the incentive to reconsider?" said board President John Posenau, at a Monday, Dec. 2, board meeting.

"They think we’re crazy," board Vice President Lois Ann Schroeder said.

Several board members did not see the need to make any changes, saying members had already thoroughly discussed the issue. The board ultimately voted Monday night not to revisit the proposal, with just three members supporting reconsideration.

Steven Sullivan, James Sanders, Ellen Freireich, Michael Thoman, Steven Scalet and Joel Sears voted no. Schroeder, Posenau and Richard Robinson voted for reconsideration.

Sears said the board didn't have the opportunity to vote on the program — which potentially has million-dollar implications every year — before the grant was submitted.

Administrators originally applied for the grant without a board vote. But then the board voted against the police pilot program for multiple reasons in October, Posenau said.

More:South Western approves armed guard contract, passes tax increase

More:West York district arms security guard, fast-tracks approval

"The first concern is we’re gonna take this fairly substantial amount of money from the state that’s for two years and at the end of two years, there’s no guarantee the state continues that funding," he said.

Other reasons were more complicated, as they involved a philosophical view on the validity of safety and security measures and whether or not to have armed or unarmed officers in schools.

"If you go and you look at literature, there’s a lot of different studies about that. And not all of them prove that school police officers help," Posenau said.

Sears said there's never been a threat assessment that established a need for school police officers, and the district already has two police departments overseeing the district.

"The same taxpayers already pay for those kinds of services, and I’m absolutely convinced that that’s sufficient," he said.

"This is the state telling us that we need to do something because they’re unwilling to actually do the hard work and specify specific remedies to specific problems," he added.

Schroeder thought it was a risk worth taking for the safety of the students.

"I don’t think we need to lose sight of that," she said.

The idea was to use the pilot program for officers to establish rapport and build trust with the student community, but that reason was not enough for members to vote it through.

"Most of the longitudinal studies talk about the value of … the soft side of it. It’s not so much the security as it is the feel-good piece of it, which frankly gets into the area of social work and some of the other (social emotional learning) supports," Sears said.

Many districts in York County have either school police officers or school resource officers, and York Suburban has neither. West York Area School District just this year fast-tracked its approval of armed guards.

Posenau said he would have liked to have tried it for two years to measure success, but the district can still look at similar things with its patrol officers.

"It didn’t quite work, but I think it may have been a lost opportunity," he said.