NEWS

Board debates police officer, drug testing

PAT FRIDGEN

If the school district, Borough of Greencastle and Antrim Township could come to terms on financing a School Resource Officer for the high-and middle schools, superintendent C. Gregory Hoover said Thursday night, "It'd be a great addition to our staff. The more resources, the better."

School board members discussed possibilities at the Aug. 20 meeting, and had a wide range of opinions on hiring an SRO.

Hoover clarified that while the number 100 for calls for police services during the school year has been bantered about, that included the times officers stopped in to say hello, which were always welcomed. But the district actually only requested police intervention maybe 30 times in 2008-2009.

High school principal Ed Rife said his building averaged five calls a year for drug and alcohol offenses. Last year there were two calls for fights and one for a weapon.

Hoover saw the presence of an SRO as valuable more for a drug prevention tactic, including getting the officer into the classrooms.

Paul Politis stated he had mixed emotions on the need for a fulltime officer and the message it sent, while Charles McClain supported the idea wholeheartedly. Dan Fisher was also in favor but Arnie Jansen said he was 'on the fence' and Eric Holtzman didn't see the benefit for G-ASD compared to surrounding districts with an officer, but also different circumstances.

The issue of drug and alcohol use surfaced repeatedly, with Jansen suggesting random drug testing.

The student representatives added their perspective. Ashley Frankenfield did not feel threatened in school but had definitely heard stories of drug use. Jake Statler thought testing would stop some problems.

"Teachers and administrators don't know everything that's going on," he said. "Random testing will make a lot of people mad. Some of the football players will get kicked off the team or have to straighten up." He added that if the testing was a deterrent or removed offenders, it would make life easier for the rest of the students.

As to how an officer position could be paid for, the three governing agencies had met in July and in general supported an SRO. "It started to be interesting when we talked about funding," said Fisher.

Borough Council has officially approved splitting expenses three ways. Antrim Township has not.

"I don't understand Antrim," Hoover said. "They were going to contract with Greencastle Police Department. This is no different. The officer is a borough employee, not the school's."

Police Chief John Phillippy had applied for two grants to get the program started. One was denied and the other has not yet been awarded.

The board agreed to get more information on the effectiveness on an SRO as well as the parameters for random drug testing.

A penny saved

Gregg McLanahan from The Public Financial Management Group returned with good news. He had attended the previous board meeting and sought approval to sell two bonds, expecting to save the district $100,000 in interest. "This is one heck of a good day," he reported. "I'm just beside myself."

The sale that day saw four bidders, with the final result a 2.65 percent interest rate, down from an average of 3.85 percent for the 2002 and 2004 bonds. The 2009 general obligation bonds totalling $5,410,000 meant $257,000 in savings to G-ASD and $15,000 to the state.

"You are the beneficiary of good market timing," McClanahan said. "This will help you this year since you didn't raise taxes."

The board turned down a request by Howard Ritchey to attend the 2009 Pennsylvania School Board Association-Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators School Leadership Conference Oct. 13-16 in Hershey, at a cost of approximately $960. Politis and Holtzman voted yes, but McClain, William Thorne, Fisher and Jansen voted no. The latter two clarified that because principals and teachers made cutbacks in order to purchase a new math series, they didn't feel justified spending money on a conference.

Ritchey's motion to oppose the Keystone Exams died for lack of a second. PSBA opposes the test, now before the legislature. The Pennsylvania Department of Education wants it to replace two PSSA tests for juniors. The testing, available in 10 subjects as soon as a course is completed, could become part of graduation requirements. "It's an exit exam, one-third of a student's grade," Ritchey said. "If a student fails it, even a good student, he could flunk the class. In the present form I can't approve it." He was disappointed the board was not at least willing to discuss it, so he could share the nine points he disagreed with.

In other business, the board hired Rita Hillwig as a longterm sub for learning support in the high school. She has a master's degree and 19 years of experience.