Hempfield schools to get own police force
Hempfield Area schools soon will be protected by their own police force.
School security officers, currently independent contractors, will become full-fledged district employees. Administrators will petition the Westmoreland County Court of Common Pleas to appoint them as designated school police officers, empowered to carry weapons and detain suspects.
School board members voted 7-2 to make the changes after an executive session at Monday’s meeting.
The employment changes take effect Oct. 1. Officers will earn $20 per hour and receive benefits.
Currently, eight of nine security staff members are authorized to carry weapons, a Taser and pepper spray, according to district human resources director Bob Reger. One member has the authority to issue citations for summary offenses and detain a student until law enforcement arrives.
“The district will be petitioning the court to grant all powers under (state law) to all 13 members of the security team,” Reger wrote in an email.
Board members Paul Ward and Chris Rossman voted against the move.
“I do support the school police force,” Ward said. “I just feel that things were working well under the process we had in place. I didn’t see any compelling reasons to take any action at this time.”
Ward said school safety is a top priority for both him and other district officials, but “I do think the employment status, versus having them as independent contractors, is something to consider,” he said.
Ward said a particular concern is the cost of retirement contributions.
”It’s been increasing year over year,” he said.
Board member David Iwig, who voted in favor of the move, said budgetary concerns are unfounded.
“Voting to bring them in as employees also brings along a $34,000 savings over having them as independent contractors,” Iwig said. “As employees, we can group their insurance in with the other district employees.”
Rossman shared some of Ward’s concerns.
“I’m a huge advocate of having a school police presence,” Rossman said. “I like the contractor angle, to allow the people who specialize in this sort of thing to do just that. It’s a necessary thing for a school district, but I don’t think it’s in their wheelhouse as far as the management and other issues that go along with it.”
Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, [email protected] or via Twitter @MurrysvilleStar.