Shamokin Area seeks armed officers
COAL TOWNSHIP - Applications are being accepted by Shamokin Area School District for the creation of an armed security staff.
One week after the school board voted to purchase metal detectors for all three Shamokin Area school buildings, a classified advertisement was placed in three area newspapers, including The News-Item, and on the school district website seeking applications for contracted "school police officers".
Director Charlie Shuey said Tuesday that despite the description, the positions would be for armed security guards who would not have the power to arrest.
The advertisement seeks candidates with prior experience as a municipal or state police officer, including recent retirees, with certifications in law enforcement and weapons training.
Candidates must also have worked in law enforcement for at least three of the past five years, must be at least 21 years old, and must pass certain clearances and background checks.
Brian Persing, board president, said the plan is to hire three officers - one for each school building - and perhaps have a fourth on-call in the event another officer is off from work.
The hourly positions would be contracted for 180 days and would not include benefits, he said.
Caught off guard
The matter of hiring school police officers was discussed during a closed-door executive session prior to last week's school board meeting, and was not discussed during the public meeting.
Director Charlie Shuey said seeing the advertisement in print Monday caught him off guard. "When I opened the paper and saw the ad, I thought, 'When did we decide this?'"
"Then they wonder why I get pissed off and get mad and write letters," Shuey continued.
Shuey, a retired Coal Township police officer, is the chairperson of both the security and personnel committees. He acknowledged the discussion that was held behind closed doors, but described it as preliminary.
No wage terms were finalized, he said, nor were other issues, such as how the positions would be funded.
Director Tracy Witmer said by e-mail she was also unaware the advertisement was authorized and only learned of it after reading it in the paper.
Both Persing and Director Ed Griffiths, who is Shamokin's police chief, said Superintendent James Zack was informally given permission by board members to move forward with the advertisement.
"Maybe Charlie didn't understand," Griffiths said of the discussion. "It was kind of lumped in to the metal detectors (discussion)."
"Nobody said 'no,' let's put it that way," Persing said of the board members who were asked for input on advertising the position, adding that it was authorized in much the same way advertisements for other job openings are approved. It was informal, he said, but directors' input was sought.
Shuey has expressed support for hiring armed guards. Apart from how it was authorized, he said he is concerned with the requirement that candidates must possess current Act 120 certification. The language could discourage some retired officers from applying, he said.
"If they would have called me I would have told them to get that Act 120 thing out of there," Shuey said.
He has since spoken to administrators and suggested they publish an updated advertisement with new language.
Act 120 is the state's required police education and training certification program. It's overseen by a division of the state police.
A state police spokesman said Tuesday the certification can be revoked if its holder is not actively employed or if in-service training isn't completed. A local law enforcement professional said a short grace period exists before Act 120 certification expires for retirees or for officers between jobs.
Persing and Griffiths each said retired municipal police officers would be considered for the position. In fact, they encouraged it.
"We're absolutely accepting applications from retirees," Persing said.
Shamokin Area School District is facing a $2.8 million deficit entering next school year, a deficit the board of directors must erase. Despite this, Persing said contracting school police officers is money well spent.
"I just think it's money we're going to have to find. The people out there, they want security in the school and they know it's gonna cost money," Persing said.
Griffiths said he suspects grant money to fund security expenditures could be made available by the federal or state government in the near future.