McKeesport Area School District officials have approved the hiring of a police chief and police officer for the 2019-20 school year.
At last week’s school board meeting, school directors also voted to approve a $55,000 annual salary for the police chief and $50,000 for a police officer. School Directors Mindy Sturgess and David Donato left the meeting prior to the vote.
Currently, the district contracts with the City of McKeesport for a school resource officer.
“This is no reflection on our current SRO, who has done an outstanding job for many years,” said Mark Holtzman Jr., district superintendent. “It's an opportunity to have our own police department and save some money down the road.”
Holtzman said he hopes to have the new positions staffed as soon as possible and that the district will continue to use city police for extracurricular activities and support.
Board members agreed in October 2018 to study the feasibility of a school police department, an idea that School Director Jim Poston said the district “has been kicking around for years.”
The officers would be armed, school officials said.
Several area school districts, including South Allegheny, already have their own in-house police departments.
McKeesport Area officials are hopeful that the state will help pay part of the cost of maintaining a school police department, Holtzman said.
Although the district has used unarmed, private security guards on campus, Holtzman said it's more difficult to attract funding for those positions. “If we contracted with a security company and they provided armed guards, not actual police officers, we wouldn't have the same flexibility with grant money,” he said.
The district is looking to hire police officers with ties to the community and an understanding of cultural diversity, Holtzman said. “We are looking at retired, local and state police from McKeesport and surrounding areas,” he said.
Earlier this month, CNN reported there had been 15 shootings in American schools during the first four and a half months of 2019.
District officials said the creation of a police department is a reflection on the times and the culture, not a sign of any particular problem in McKeesport Area schools.
“We didn’t vote to hire school police because we have a bunch of bad students,” Poston said.
He said police officers in schools are a tool to provide a safer educational environment, and that the district will probably consider adding more in years to come.
Richard Finch Jr. is a freelance writer who covers news from McKeesport Area School District and North Versailles Twp. for Tube City Almanac. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published May 28, 2019.