In the wake of the school shooting in Florida that left 17 people dead, one West Donegal Township resident had a few questions for the Elizabethtown school board.
“How secure is this building?” asked Ralph Horne. And, he continued, “Do you feel the building is as secure as it should be? Is it hardened enough to keep a crazy person out?”
Horne also asked if there were school resource officers in each building or just one at the high school.
Superintendent Michele Balliet explained that the Elizabethtown Area School District employs one SRO in partnership with the Elizabethtown Borough police department who rotates among all school buildings on a confidential schedule. The SRO is a uniformed borough police officer who is armed.
After the one SRO retired and another was hired, Balliet said, the district began working in cooperation with other police departments covering municipalities where schools are located – Bear Creek, for instance, is in Mount Joy Township, which is covered by Northwest Regional Police – so that the SRO can be present in those buildings and work with the host police department.
Horne also suggested that the board consider the NRA’s National School Shield program, which consults with schools on making them safer.
Horne also said he doesn’t have a problem with teachers being armed, “but there are a lot of caveats involved with it. And the first thing is the teacher has to have the correct mindset. And if they don’t have that, then they shouldn’t have a gun.”
Balliet also discussed the district’s security protocols, including prevention measures such as controlling building entrances and an anonymous text-to-tip line that has been “incredibly active.”
The district has an “all hazards” plan which is actively reviewed, and each building has a crisis response team, Balliet said. She also pointed to the ALICE program, which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate. The program that has been utilized by the district in case of an intruder or shooter.
“We’re going to do everything we can within reason to make sure that our kids stay safe,” Balliet said. “They have a right to be safe and they have a right to learn.”
Also at the board’s action meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 27, the board approved a resolution opposing state Senate Bill 2, which would provide education savings account vouchers for students to use for private education, thus pulling funds away from public schools.
In addition, the board agreed to a proposed 2018-19 school calendar, which would shorten the school year by four days and yield $150,000 in savings; the last day will be May 31.
Both the full board meeting and a finance committee meeting held just before it were held at the Bear Creek School instead of the usual location of the high school-middle school building. Damage caused by a kitchen fire at the secondary school caused a one-day closing, but some rooms are still unusable.
At a finance committee meeting held just before the action meeting, business manager George Longridge reviewed updated figures for the proposed 2018-19 budget, showing a lesser tax increase than previously discussed.
The preliminary $62.76 million spending plan approved Feb. 13 included a 5.73-percent tax increase, which would exceed the 3.2-percent Act 1 limit by seeking exceptions for pension and special education costs.
Longridge had calculated the budget using a 3.2-percent increase, showing revenues of $62.20 million. Various cuts to general fund spending would bring expenditures to $62.33 million, leaving a deficit of nearly $128,000. Budget discussions will continue until a final budget is adopted in June.
At the action meeting, resident Dorothy Landis, speaking for senior citizens, thanked the board members who voted against raising taxes above the Act 1 index.
She pointed to a news report that Elizabethtown had the highest tax increase in Lancaster County last year. “That’s what gets me riled up,” she said.
Landis referred to the last school board meeting, where a resident who supported a tax increase talked about moving if programs, such as art and music, were cut.
“Well, the seniors might have to move out because they can’t pay their taxes,” she said, urging board members to match expenses with revenue.