Tube City Community Media Inc. is seeking freelance writers to help cover city council, news and feature stories in McKeesport, Duquesne, White Oak and the neighboring communities. High school and college students seeking work experience are encouraged to apply; we are willing to work with students who need credit toward class assignments. Please send cover letter, resume, two writing samples and the name of a reference (an employer, supervisor, teacher, etc. -- not a relative) to tubecitytiger@gmail.com.

To place your ad, email tubecitytiger@gmail.com.
Ads start at $1 per day, minimum seven days.

School District Hires New Security Firm

Additional police officer hired as residents voice frustrations

By Adam Reinherz
The Tube City Almanac
March 27, 2023
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

A video circulating on social media that allegedly showed a McKeesport Area School District security guard napping on the job turned into a point of contention at the school board meeting.

“What is wrong with security at this school?” asked former school director Mark Holtzman Sr., who is running in the May 16 primary to reclaim his seat on the school board. He called it “a disaster waiting to happen.”

“When a security guard is sleeping, laying around, half-dressed, bellies hanging out, I mean come on,” Holtzman said. “Stuff gotta be done.”

The school board said it is taking steps to resolve complaints, including the approval this month of a contract with a new school security firm that will eventually provide 14 guards to the district.

“We're going to do the best that we can with the idea that we have no guarantees, nobody has any guarantees in this business,” School Director Dave Donato said.

In the wake of several shootings near the middle school and high school campus, residents who spoke at the March meeting said they were looking for reassurance.

White Oak resident Loree Scharritter referenced comments made two months earlier by school board member Joseph Lopretto, who called safety the district’s “number one priority.”

When it comes to security, Scharriter claimed the district has “dropped the ball.”

“There's so many things that I feel like we could do here, but we have to actually do what we say we’re going to do,” she said. “We have to make security number one. If your kids aren’t safe in school, how do they learn?”

School directors said that district officials are actively working with building principals and police on safety. The most recent committee meeting of the district’s Safe Schools Committee was held March 16, School Director Dan Goughnour, and many of the topics being raised by citizens were discussed.

None of the school leaders at the meeting “had any concerns that couldn’t be easily remedied,” Goughnour said.

This month, the board approved by a 6-2 vote a contract with Homeland Intelligence & Protective Services of McDonald to provide security in the district. School Directors James Brown and Matthew Holtzman voted against the contractor and Lopretto was absent.

The new contract will boost the number of security guards from seven to 12, and another two are expected to be hired, Goughnour said.

• See the proposal voted on by the school board

According to documents reviewed by Tube City Almanac, Homeland Intelligence also provides security to Pittsburgh Zoo & Aquarium as well as Bentworth schools and Wilkinsburg Athletic Association. The company also has offices in Philadelphia and Orlando, Fla.

The contract approved by the board calls for 10 unarmed guards to be provided for 190 days at a base cost of $356,440 for the 2023-24 school year. Solicitor Gary Matta said the district is entering a three-year contract with Homeland Intelligence.

Donato called the hiring of Homeland Intelligence an opportunity to “learn” and prepare for next school year.

“The fact of the matter is it's a step toward trying to secure [the district] for the remainder of this school year and make sure these people are ready on the fly beginning next August.” 

School Board President LaToya Wright acknowledged parents’ frustration and credited superintendent Dr. Tia Wanzo with “finding coverage” for a security staffing gap that began Feb. 28.

Donato similarly acknowledged citizens’ discontent but said the board needed to act prudently when entering into costly long-term contracts.

“No one’s ignoring the concerns,” he said. “It's not because we’re not attentive to what the needs are, that we don’t know that security is a problem, [but] in today’s day and age with how much money is available to conduct these kinds of agreements, you got to be careful.”

This contract, which effectively doubles security in the district, ensures “we can deal with the needs of each building,” Wanzo said.

Along with approving an agreement with Homeland, the school hired Officer Ralph Johnson, at $25 per hour, to serve as a school police resource officer at Founders’ Hall Middle School.  

Johnson, who retired from McKeesport Police in January, said decades of work as a juvenile detective will prepare him for what’s ahead.

“I was in charge of a juvenile bureau for 23 years, so I knew all the kids, the good ones and the bad ones, the parents, I know them all,” he said.

Building relationships with younger community members is a critical piece of providing safety, he explained: “Some of these parents have no idea what their kids are doing but we as police officers do.”

Johnson said he was surprised to hear so many citizens voice frustration about district safety, but said he’s committed to improving the situation.

“I'm here. I'm going to do my best. I'm going to serve this school just as well as I served the city, provide protection, and hopefully alleviate some of the concerns they have about security,” he said. “I’m here to make a difference.”

Adam Reinherz is a freelance writer. He can be reached at adam.reinherz@gmail.com

Originally published March 27, 2023.

In other news:
"NV Twp. Slates Easter…" || "Students Preview Upco…"