BLAIRSVILLE-SALTSBURG: District to focus on in-house security training
April 18, 2013 10:50 AM

CONEMAUGH TOWNSHIP — The Blairsville-Saltsburg school board has opted not to pursue outside security options for their schools, deciding instead to focus on in-house training of teachers and students.

The board unanimously voted not to approve the administration continuing to gather information regarding school security.

The decision was made following meetings with local and state departments as well as the sheriff department on what options the district had regarding having active or retired officers to patrol the schools.

A meeting was held April 3 between the building and grounds committee and representatives of the Blairsville and Saltsburg police departments and the Pennsylvania State Police, according to board member Rick Harper. The question-and-answer session led to an April 6 meeting between the committee, school district administration, members of the Blairsville borough council, the mayor of Blairsville and the Blairsville police chief for clarification of the district’s security options.

“Unfortunately, after this meeting, we still had more questions than answers,” Harper said.

Harper said the “borough seemed disinterested in supporting this initiative due to a variety of legal issues that would be difficult to overcome.”

Blairsville Borough Council met Tuesday to discuss the issue, according to Harper, but no results of that meeting have yet been released.

According to board President B. Edward Smith, the Blairsville police department withdrew due to liability and the inability to provide coverage due to staff. To bring on two state police officers, the cost would have been $100,000 per officer. Retired state police officers would have cost $50,000 per officer, but the district would have had to provide for uniforms and weapons. The sheriff’s department was unable to provide the manpower.

“Finally we looked within,” Smith said. “And what we have within is we have cameras everywhere, we have security everywhere, we feel we have to instruct our teachers more, get them more involved.”

This may equate to putting money toward more teacher and student training in the form of education and mock drills. The board heard two presentations by Blairsville residents regarding last month’s decision to reduce school hours on Fridays by 2ᄑ hours.

Amanda Vresilovic, the mother of a child in the Blairsville Middle School, voiced her disapproval of the vote, saying her major concern was the reduction in instruction time.

“While the school’s advertised an increase in overall instruction hours,” she said, “a valuable segment of time is taken away and will be replaced with minutes here and minutes there. How can one compare 20 minutes a day to a 2ᄑ-hour loss every Friday?”

The worry was that students’ transition time would be shortened, not giving them adequate time to prepare for their next class. Concern was also voiced over whether parents would be able to afford additional child care for those shortened days.

“Can the people of our community really shoulder the added financial burden of added child care?” Vresilovic asked.

Molly Stiles, mother of two Blairsville Middle School students, said she felt the board acted too quickly and did not take the community’s opinions into consideration.

“I feel if you want us to have us backing you and supporting you,” she said, “it should have been up front and honest from the beginning. Something sent home, workshops set up, let us come in and give you our advice.”

Although feedback regarding the decision can be given through the district’s website, Stiles said she felt that was not adequate.

The general worry was that since instructional time for teachers will now be set for a Friday afternoon, there is a good chance the time will not be used constructively. Board members rebutted by explaining that several initiatives have been mandated by both the state and the district, including child-abuse training, parent-teacher conference involvement and confidentiality training. In all, 20 initiatives were to be addressed in only 13 available hours for teachers.

“There isn’t enough time during the school day,” said Mary Whitfield, board treasurer. “There’s so much demand, besides the federal mandates and the mandates by the school, there isn’t enough time.

“Something has to give somewhere. We’re professionals. We’re not going to sit on Fridays … and blow the day off.”

The school board also heard an award presentation by Indiana County Commissioner Patricia Evanko, congratulating the girls’ basketball team on its first District 6 PIAA championship.

“Since I am a woman,” Evanko said, “and I graduated from here, I am a county commissioner, I wanted to do this in honor of the girls’ basketball team and the coaches.”

The award is given by the county commissioners to one boys and one girls team in Indiana County each season that bests represents the ideals of sportsmanship and respect.

“This team took teamwork to another level,” Evanko read. “Selfishness and envy were never a part of the program, and these young ladies truly cared about the team’s success and put each other before individual glory.”

Evanko then posed for pictures with team members, who were in attendance.

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