Although the Octorara Area School District is one of only 36 in the state to be awarded a $40,000 safe schools grant to hire an armed security officer, the school board voted 5-4 not to accept the grant.
School board President Lisa Bowman, one of the no votes at the meeting on Monday, April 14, said saying no to the grant does not mean the district is saying no to hiring a security guard.
The proposed 2014-15 budget, to be voted on in June, includes funds to hire a subcontracted security officer. Superintendent Tom Newcome said he will initiate an online survey of district parents for more opinions about hiring an officer and whether the officer should be armed.
“I personally need more time to get more input,” Bowman said.
Board member Sam Ganow, who voted for the grant along with Hank Oleyniczak, Nelson Stoltzfus and Leon Lapp, disagreed.
“If we’re going to vote yes why wouldn’t we take the money now?” Ganow asked. “Someone is willing to give us money. If we don’t take the money and something happens between now and the end of the year, we look like idiots.”
The grant would have given the district seed money to put an officer on duty at no cost for the remainder of the school year. It also would have offset the cost of the officer’s services next school year.
For board member Brian Norris, who voted no along with Sheri Melton, Tim Alexander and Shawna Johnson, turning down the money was an “opportunity to further the conversation.”
The school safety issue has been controversial in the community, and those who weighed in during public comment April 14 were adamant about accepting the grant.
“You sat on this for how long?” asked parent Vito Vespe of Sadsbury Township. “This is a disgrace.”
Vespe is a member of the Community School Safety Task Force, a parent group that has lobbied for an armed officer for more than a year.
“I don’t think you did your homework as a school board,” Vespe said, adding that a yes vote was a “no brainer. Found money is found money, and there are no exceptions to that rule.”
Alexander said the district’s taxpayers could not afford security. Melton said accepting a grant could have consequences and she would prefer to spend funds on security infrastructure such as cameras.