A $3.9 million state grant program that will assist Pennsylvania school districts in hiring police officers has officially begun.
The program is awarding districts with money that must be used to strengthen school safety procedures.
With the funds, districts are expected to place a school resource officer or school police officer within the building or buildings in the district, Pennsylvania Department of Education spokesman Tim Eller said.
Grants totaling up to $60,000 were given to schools hiring school resource officers, which are uniformed police officers of a local municipality that contractually agree to be placed in school buildings.
Schools could receive up to $40,000 for the placement of school police officers, which are hired directly by the districts.
“We have hired school police officers because they have greater authority under the state statute for issuing citations, and they are required to have the municipal police officer training,” said Patrick O’Toole, the superintendent of Upper St. Clair school district.
The grant program requires districts to fund the officer’s position for two years. For the first year, school districts receive the full amount of funding they were allocated. In the 2014-2015 school year, districts are eligible to receive 50 percent of what they got in the first year if the funding is available.
“This just provides seed money or additional funding to schools who may be looking to add that type of security within the schools, but had some budgeting issues, that didn’t have the funding to do such,” Eller said.
Eller said this encourages schools to find out what safety procedures work for them.
“This two-year funding stream will allow districts at the end of this two years to determine, you know, ‘is having a police officer or resource officer within the school building a necessary thing within our school district?’,” Eller said.
The legislation creating the grant program was introduced by Sen. Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting. The mass killings, and others across the country, heightened awareness of the need for safety plans in schools. Some responded by making an effort to place armed officers in their buildings.
Districts receiving grants are not required to arm their officers.
“Not all school districts want that. It’s not going to be a mandate from the state, if you will,” Eller said. “That’s going to be left at the discretion of the districts and what they feel is best for their students.”
O’Toole, who felt a school police officer was best for his students, is grateful to receive the grant, totaling $40,000.
“We take the safety and security of students very seriously,” O’Toole said. “These funds are very helpful in tight budget times to be able to fund our school police.”