LASD board debates need for SRO; Honors Altland and Lang; starts superintendent search

Whether or not a School Resource Officer (SRO) is worth the cost was a matter of debate for the Littlestown School Board members at Monday’s work session. The three-year contract for such an employee would be $411,685, and some members expressed concern that funding this position would result in cutting services in other areas, such as mental and behavioral health.

The recommendation for an SRO came from Dr. Eric Naylor, Director of Educational Services in the district. “There are a number of days when our safety officer and the Littlestown Police Department are involved actively on this campus, Naylor said. “I’ve been here for 23 years, so I wouldn’t be making this recommendation if I didn’t believe in it,” he added.

Several board members questioned the high cost of the contract. Board member Carl Thompson said the average salary for a PA police officer is about $63,000, or less than half of what the agreement calls for. Janelle Ressler pointed out that in the school district she works at, the SRO salary is considerably less and she wondered if the price could be negotiated. “What about arming some of our staff members,” she asked.

Board member Brian Lawyer said he thought the money should be spent to prevent violent action rather than react to it. Currently, the district has six staff members who deal with mental and behavioral health issues, in part because of grant funding that expires at the end of this school year. “In my mind, an SRO has about zero opportunity to stop a violent action. If you want to prevent a violent action on campus, then we have to address violence. We have to address mental health. And I don’t want to approve one at the expense of the other,” he said. Lawyer added that if the board agreed to finance both mental health support and an SRO, then he would be in favor of it.

“It’s easy to sit here in an armchair and discuss this,” said Board member Steven Yerger, who works in the security industry. “But when it’s coming down, and it’s a bad day, this conversation would evaporate. I think it’s prudent to look down the road and say, ‘What if?’”

Board Member Nick Lovell asked the board to clarify that the proposal for an SRO does not negate the need for a full slate of mental and behavioral health care services in the district schools.

“That is correct,” replied Naylor. “I think we’re on the same page here of the value of having both mental health services as well as security.”

Thomson recommended tabling the issue until February while they find an “alternative, more affordable solution. The curriculum and policy committee will revisit the issue at its next meeting Jan. 30, 6:30 p.m. Acting Superintendent Don Bell suggested the committee members come up with a cost range they would consider appropriate for an SRO position.

In other board business, LASD bid farewell to two long-term employees of LASD: Bev Lang, Administrative Assistant and Daniel Atland, District Solicitor. Lang, who has been with the district since 2012, was recognized for her dedication to the job “ while in the building, from home, and at times, when on vacation,” by Assistant Superintendent Timothy Mitzel. Lang, who was honored as the “spotlight” employee for January, thanked the board for their kind words, adding that she had provided agendas and minutes for 530 board meetings during her tenure.

Atland, district solicitor for 27 years, was recognized for putting the school district’s needs first and helping it comply with its many legal demands. “I’ve always been an advocate of public education,” he said. He added that in his experience, a school district putting the needs of its students first can‘t go wrong. “If you keep that focus, everything else will come into perspective for you.”

The district is seeking a new superintendent using the Keystone Superintendent Search Service. The search is led by Mark DiRocco, Ph.D., and Connie Kindler, M.Ed, who have worked in the PA education scene for more than 40 years and served on the State Association of School Administrators.

Their sample timeline for recruiting indicates that the process would begin by meeting with the board and other stakeholders to pinpoint what the community wants in a new superintendent. Recruitment, advertising, and review of applicants would take place in March, with first-round interviews slated for April and selection of a new leader in May.

The firm’s contract would also include new superintendent onboarding workshops at a total cost of $6,000 to the district. Additional stakeholder input options, including public forums and extra surveys, would increase the price. Mileage and advertising are also billed separately.

The agreement to award the contract to Keystone was made under the former board. DiRocco advised the new board to inform Superintendent Bell if they wanted to honor the existing contract so Keystone could start the project as soon as possible.

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Judith Cameron Seniura is a freelance reporter. She began her journalism career in the early ‘70s and has written for newspapers, magazines, and other media in Ontario, Canada, Alaska, Michigan, Nebraska, San Antonio, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.

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