One district plans to upgrade a security camera system throughout its buildings
HARRISBURG PA – Local school districts – Pottstown, Pottsgrove, Spring-Ford Area, and Perkiomen Valley – probably will wait until mid-January before each receives money from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency to help pay for future school security improvements, state officials said. They can afford to be patient, though; all already know how their funds will be spent.
The cash is a gift from the state Legislature and Gov. Tom Wolf, under a bill signed into law during June. Act 44 of 2018 created a commission-administered School Safety and Security Grant Program, under which districts can apply annually for funding to accomplish a wide variety of security-related goals.
Just a week before the November general elections the commission released $12.4 million to underwrite its first $25,000 grants, sought by 496 school districts that applied. Checks were being processed last week by the commission – according to Sarah Rasmussen, district director for state Sen. Bob Mensch – and are expected to be cut and mailed by the Treasury around Jan. 15.
“We do know the money will be on its way,” she said. Mensch, who also serves as Senate majority caucus chairman, actively supported the bill.
Activities allowed by the act include “performing school safety assessments, buying security-related technology and equipment, supporting school safety-related and behavioral-health trainings, preparing all-hazards plans; hiring school resource officers, school police officers, school counselors, social workers and school psychologists; and providing for trauma-informed approaches to education.”
But given all those choices about 76 percent of district applicants had similar intentions, the commission indicated in a press release. That majority said their funds would be dedicated to “security planning, and the purchase of security-related technology.”
The Pottstown district hopes to stretch its dollars as far as they can go, and then maybe apply for more in a supplementary grant, according to district Director of Community Relations John Armato.
Its action list is lengthy. Grant money will be used to install secure entrance vestibules at Pottstown Middle School and its Annex Building, both on North Franklin Street, and at Edgewood Elementary School on Morris Street. “There are no secure vestibules at these buildings” now, Armato noted.
Vestibules would be built with video phones, locking magnetic entrance devices, aluminum-framed curtain walls, and aluminum interior vestibule doors that will be locked at all times, he added.
“The tentative plan for these funds is to begin upgrading the security cameras throughout the district,” Pottsgrove Director of Community Relations Gary DeRenzo explained.
Many district cameras are either not of the modern digital variety, or not compatible with technology Pottsgrove uses now. Its goal is to begin replacing some cameras using the grant, and then rely on the district capital fund to buy additional cameras during the current academic year, DeRenzo said.
“We plan to use the grant money to improve current safety initiatives that are in place at Spring-Ford,” said Chief Dave Boyer, that district’s coordinator of safety, security and emergency preparedness.
The Board of School Directors in March approved a security audit and review, Boyer reported, which identified areas of strength as well as those needing security improvement. The latter will be its focus. “We are grateful for the state’s commitment to school safety,” Boyer said. “Safety is our first priority, and we are proactive in taking measures to keep our students and staff safe while at school.”
In Perkiomen Valley
“We will be using the $25,000 grant to purchase cell phone boosters for all buildings,” Perkiomen Valley Manager of School and Community Engagement Jessica Lester said.
Experts suggest cell phone communication between security-affected groups, when possible and effective, are valuable components in many schools’ safety plans. Boosters will enhance “cell phone signals and reception in all areas of our buildings,” Lester said.
The Boyertown Area, Daniel Boone, Owen J. Roberts, Phoenixville Area, Methacton, and Upper Perkiomen schools districts also are among those scheduled to receive $25,000 grants, the commission acknowledged.
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