With funding provided by Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Office for Safe Schools, a school police officer will soon be on duty in Conneaut School District.
Kurt Sitler, a Cochranton resident who retired after 26 years with Pennsylvania State Police, has been appointed by Conneaut School Board to fill the newly-created position.
“He will have arresting powers and charging powers, just like any police officer,” Superintendent Jarrin Sperry told the Tribune after the board’s monthly meeting Wednesday night. While Sitler’s jurisdiction will be any school property in all three of the district’s attendance areas — Linesville, Conneaut Lake and Conneaut Valley — the plan is for him to spend most of his time at Conneaut Area Senior High in Linesville, Sperry said.
The only objection to the appointment came from school board member John Burnham, who said, “I don’t like schools being turned into prisons more than they already are.”
PDE’s 2013-14 Safe Schools Targeted Grants were offered for both school police officers and school resource officers.
According to grant guidelines, school police officers are “typically full-time, in-house officers with police powers who are employed directly by the school district rather than directly by a law enforcement agency outside of the school district.” Priority was given to school districts utilizing school police officers who are retired federal agents or retired state, municipal or military police officers. In comparison, a school resource officer is defined under the grant guidelines as a law enforcement officer commissioned by a local, county or state law enforcement agency whose duty station is in a school.
The maximum individual grant for school police officer funds was $40,000; Conneaut received $37,000. If the General Assembly continues to fund the grant for the 2014-15 school year, grantees will be eligible to receive 50 percent of the 2013-14 allocation without re-application.
The school district’s action was briefly discussed at Linesville Borough Council’s Tuesday night council meeting when Mayor Barry Chapin, council’s liaison to the police department, responded to a question raised by council last month. After reporting that Linesville police officers had responded to the high school 38 times between September 2013 and January 2014 and 23 times in January, Chapin noted that once the officer is in place, Linesville police won’t have to respond unless called for something serious.
A total of nine applications were received and four applicants were interviewed by a team consisting of some board members, some administrators and the superintendent. “There were some very good candidates,” Sperry said.
“He’s very well-qualified,” Sperry said of Sitler. “He had a distinguished career with Pennsylvania State Police — he was a firearms instructor, investigator and worked with kids in many of his investigations. He’s a well-rounded individual and very excited to be part of our district.”
Sitler will be paid $30,000 a year with no benefits. Other specifics of the job, including the starting date, will be discussed during coming days, Sperry said.
Sitler, who was present for Wednesday’s meeting, said he’s looking forward to getting started.
“If you look across the country — from Columbine to Sandy Hook — school shooting is unfortunately a reality we all deal with,” Sperry said. “It really can happen anywhere, and one of the best deterrents you can have is an armed policeman in the building. The grant came available. The board and I talked about it, the board instructed me to go after the grant, we did and we got it.
“It’s more than just protection,” he added. “It’s a person the kids can go to and talk to — it’s a person who can hopefully head off problems before they ever start.”
Jane Smith contributed to this story. Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.