Council wants to continue school resource officer discussion

PAT FRIDGEN

Whether to pursue hiring a School Resource Officer to work in the Greencastle-Antrim School District became an hour-long discussion for Greencastle Borough Council Dec. 7. The final result was to move forward but with less support than in the past.

Though police chief John Phillippy expected a decision Dec. 8 by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, he was confident Greencastle would receive a three year diminishing grant for an SRO, with a fourth year required to be fully funded locally. The grant would mean local contributions of $18,821 the first year, $29,104 the second year, $44,812 the third year, and $60,601 the fourth year. The money would cover salary and benefits, and day to day equipment used by the officer, but not a vehicle. Phillippy said the person would use one already in the fleet.

To start the discussion, Paul Schemel moved to ask G-ASD to fund the position for nine months and the borough for three. Harry Foley had earlier expressed disappointment in Antrim Township, on advice of its solicitor, refusing to contribute to the officer, though the vast majority of students live in the township. "They want services without paying for them."

Duane Kinzer suggested the responsibility be shifted to the school, which had the authority to tax every citizen who would benefit. "I'm not in favor of getting pushed into this. After the grant runs out, it's a burden."

Schemel withdrew his motion and Mark Singer made another, that on receipt of the grant, the SRO be discussed with the school. He guessed that with the planned expansion of the school campus, officials were pondering the position anyway.

Reservations were stated by Charles Eckstine, who didn't want the borough "stuck with an extra officer" if the school didn't want one after the final year, and Michele Emmett, who wanted evidence of need.

Resident Sheri Morgan said she had studied 40 research articles on the matter, which indicated SROs did not make schools safer. Up to 47 percent of arrests were on students with disabilities, who made up only 10 percent of the population. The charges were usually disorderly conduct, disruption, and aggressive behavior. She wanted to know if the SRO would have training on handling those types of students.

She also said SROs tend to function as law enforcement rather than for education. She did not approve of the "schoolhouse to jailhouse pipeline." Her advice to council, and at a previous presentation to the school board, was that school personnel be better equipped with intervention programs and activities be available outside the school day for all students.

Singer asked if the others were balking because of the cost rather than in the interest of safety. Emmett replied even if the position was free to the borough, she opposed it, preferring to see mental health professionals in the schools. Grants were available for those positions, but no one was applying for them. Schemel expected the school to determine the educational value of an SRO while his issue was funding.

While a vote in the past was 6-1 in favor of an SRO, with Emmett against, the vote Monday night was 4-2 on meeting with school officials. Emmett and Kinzer were opposed. The others said they were willing to keep the discussion going and no money was yet committed.

Craig Myers was absent.

Thank you

Council members expressed thanks to Emmett for her term of service. Her seat will be filled by Matthew Smith in January as a result of the November election.

Schemel told her she had been a tremendous asset and worked hard.

“Even though we didn’t always agree, I learned a lot from you,” Singer added. “You asked questions. You weren’t afraid.”

Kinzer noted she always had the community at heart.

Emmett said she appreciated the opportunity and was especially satisfied with council president Eckstine’s openmindedness and fairness to her when she was a newly-appointed member.

Other business

A couple reports were taken from chairmen of Five-Year Strategic Plan committees. Marissa Burt told the council the first project for the Beautification group was to put welcome signs at each entranct to town. The members were scouting locations. They will also initiate a town clean-up before Old Home Week.

Lauren McLane said the Recreation Committee had met once and a main topic, a public swimming pool, was a "very contentious item." With a limited budget her group needed to prioritize but already had one request, to get space on the borough's website to promote local activities and events. She noted that grants were available for entities that worked together, so she wanted the borough, township and school district to find a way to get along to create recreational opportunities for residents.

Mark Singer said the Sidewalk Committee was of a consensus the borough must get a sidewalk policy. The members were also concerned about the lack of pedestrian markers in the middle of crosswalks, and wanted left turns from Sheetz onto Baltimore Street prohibited.

An agreement with MRM Property Liability and Trust was approved for comprehensive insurance coverage in 2010, with a projected savings of $8,900 from current premiums. Borough manager Kenneth Womack said each year of low claims would increase the amount of rebates, and by the seventh year the borough could be reimbursed 80 percent of the $50,000 annual expense.

Jason Gerhart was appointed to the Greencastle Area Franklin County Water Authority pending his resignation from the Zoning Hearing Board. The Greencastle resident is not allowed to serve on two boards simultaneously. Eckstine said Gerhart's engineering experience would be a tremendous asset to the authority. His appointment is for a partial term expiring Dec. 31, 2011.

The resignation of Rebecca Wertime from the Shade Tree Commission was accepted, and Wayne Warren appointed in her stead, with the term running through Dec. 31, 2012.

Christmas bonuses for employees were set at $100 for fulltime and $50 for parttime.