A $25.8 million budget with no tax increase was passed this week by the Mohawk Area School Board.
The Mohawk Area School Board this week approved a Homestead/Farmstead exclusion that will lo…
By the time the school doors reopen in August, the Mohawk Area School District will have its own police department.
Superintendent Michael Leitera told school board members this week much remains to be done, but the district expects soon to obtain its Originating Agency Identification number, which he said is issued by the FBI and needed to create a police department.
"In light of recent school shootings," he said, "there have been changes in school code which allow armed security officers and school police on campuses."
Leitera anticipates having one full-time officer, an officer in charge, and one officer in each school building. The district's officer or officers, he said, will be sworn in before a judge.
"This person will be a real police officer, with all powers of an officer anywhere," he said. He added that the Shenango Area School District has a school police department with a sworn-in officer, and Ellwood City is considering one.
Following the meeting, Leitera said he anticipates employing several part-time officers, along with the full-time officer, to be used for security and to patrol the district's campus in the evenings as is currently done.
"We have a lot of options," he said. Those options could include a pool of officers shared with other districts. Leitera said he has been contacted by interested parties who include retired police officers and officers employed on a full-time or part-time basis. He said he hopes to begin interviewing possible applicants by Thursday and expects to look first at municipalities that make up the Mohawk Area district including Bessemer, New Beaver and North Beaver Township.
Leitera told board members he has met with the officer in charge of the Grove City public school district, which currently has a school police department.
"I have a lot of questions about how do we start," he said. Those questions include uniforms, storing weapons and rules to be followed.
In addition to security, the officers, he said, will play a role in the classrooms and with teachers. "This will be basic community policing," he said. "We're emphasizing that."
Last month, he said, the district purchased a John Deere Gator utility vehicle, to be used primarily by the athletics department, but said the officers also will have access to it.
"We have a lot of ground to cover," he said.
Leitera said the district has maintained a good relationship with CNC Security, which patrols school grounds. He said he anticipates continuing to use their services.
The district will pay for its police department through grants received from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency.
Leitera said the district received two grants this year — the $25,000 extended to all school districts who apply, and a $142,000 grant which will be used for salary and benefits for two years. "This will be a full-time job with benefits. We're anticipating a salary of $47,000 per year," he said.
The grant, he added, will also be used to purchase 100 door blocks, at $100 each, which are steel barricade bars used as a lockdown device.
Leitera said only Mohawk and Ellwood City in Lawrence County obtained the larger grants, noting, "Only 200 of the 600 applicants were successful. "
Security improvements, which could involve relocating the elementary school building offices, also are being considered by the school board.
Architect David Esposito of Eckles Architecture met with school board members to review options that he said could range from $40,000 to $400,000.
"We're exploring possibilities at this time," Leitera said. "There is more study to do."
Leitera said the building is already safe with a "capture entrance" in which visitors to the building must pass through secure doors into a vestibule and through a second set of locked doors before entering the school's lobby.
"We've done a lot to improve security over the years," he said. "We're in good shape, but you can always do more."