New Castle News

December 20, 2012

In The Schools: New Castle hires armed officers

Debbie Wachter
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — The New Castle Area School Board, in a 7-0 vote last night, approved hiring six part-time armed police officers.

The officers, as members of the New Castle police department, will be stationed at each of the district’s schools as a security measure in reaction to the shooting deaths of 20 elementary students and six adults Friday at a school in Newtown, Conn.

The tragedy has prompted school districts nationwide to take a look at their own security measures to make sure their students and teachers are safe.

District superintendent George Gabriel said the target date is Jan. 2 to have the officers in the schools.

“There was a lot of discussion and good questions asked by the board,” Gabriel said.

Absent were board members Mark Kirkwood and Barbara Razzano. Stacey Fleo voted by phone.

The board heard presentations last night from New Castle police chief Bobby Salem and school security officer Justin Crumb, who are working with the administration to ensure greater security, Gabriel said. The police are assessing each of the school buildings and offering suggestions to their lockdown plans.

Gabriel said he has sent an automated phone alert to reassure all parents that the district’s top priority is safety, and to let them know there will be changes to the school visitor policy. Details will be forthcoming, pending board review, he said.

Gabriel outlined security measures the district has in place so far.

“The city is going to be patrolling our buildings every hour or two, and will have physical presence at each of our buildings,” he said.

The district also has a centrally located command center, through which all information will flow in an emergency.

“My recommendation to the board tonight was that,” based upon an agreement he worked out with Salem, “to staff part-time certified police officers in each of our buildings.”

New Castle city council plans to add the six positions as part of the 2013 budget, which is expected to be adopted tonight. The city’s cost for the additional officers is $129,792, plus about $3,000 for Social Security, workers’ compensation, general liability insurance and uniforms. Part-time officers receive $13 per hour and will work 32 hours per week.

District business manager Joe Ambrosini explained that the district will pay the city for the armed police as an extension of an already-existing contract with the city. The board will give the administration the authorization to meet and discuss how to write the contract, he said. The additional cost to the district will be $20,000 per officer per year, Ambrosini said, or a total of $120,000.

“These are armed, trained police academy officers,” Gabriel said, “to ensure safety and welfare of our students and staff.”

“We went to another level,” Ambrosini commented with regard to the incident in Connecticut. “This heightened our awareness, not only in New Castle but throughout the country.”

Ambrosini pointed out that when Gov. Tom Corbett cut school district charter school funding in 2011, he also cut safe and drug-free funding to districts.

The district initially received about $60,000 a year a few years back, which diminished to $30,000 over time. Then it went to zero.

“That money would have been used for exactly what we’re talking about right now,” Gabriel said, namely for school safety and drug testing.

Gabriel also noted that a Jan. 10 countywide summit called by District Attorney Joshua Lamancusa for schools and law enforcement will be hosted by the New Castle district.

Gabriel noted that in January, the district also will begin in-service training that will call upon experts, including former District Attorney Matthew T. Mangino and the local police department.

Also, a metal detector will be in place at George Washington Intermediate Elementary School to screen all visitors.

Gabriel and Ambrosini met yesterday with a representative of Eckles Architects to make slight changes to the security entrance of the proposed early learning center.

(Staff writer John Manna contributed to this report)

(Email: dwachter