ADAMS TWP — Students returning from summer break next fall in the Mars School District could be greeted at each building by armed police officers — some of whom would be part of a newly formed district police force.
During a meeting Tuesday, Mars School Board members voted to approve a letter of intent between the district and Adams Township to provide two full-time officers beginning next school year. This will supplement three additional officers who will be hired as part of a district police force comprised of retired law enforcement officers.
Currently, the district contracts for one full-time Adams Township police officer for the entire school campus. Each school has security from an outside agency.
According to board President Dayle Ferguson, the move comes after a study through the state Act 44 law, which requires that all school districts hire a coordinator.
Ferguson said the security team found while the current arrangement has worked to keep students safe, having full-time, armed officers in each building is identified as a priority.
“(The one officer) is only one person, and this campus has five schools and covers several miles, and we know we can do better,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson and solicitor Thomas King said district officials and Adams Township representatives worked to explore options to make that a reality. The letter of intent outlines a “hybrid” model in which a pool of four Adams Township officers are rotated two at a time.
They will oversee the district-hired officers in a chain of command. The hiring of the township officers would be the responsibility of the police department, although the district would have some input.
According to King, the district would pay $150,000 to use the Adams Township officers. Currently, the district pays $108,000 for the full-time officer. It also pays $40,000 for traffic control, an expense that would be eliminated under the agreement.
The letter of intent will allow for continued conversations and an appeal to the Court of Common Pleas to create the district police force.
King said another $200,000 will be added to the security budget for next year, and will help account for hiring the three retired officers as well as startup costs and equipment. He noted that retired officers have health insurance through their pensions, so the district would not need to provide that.
Additional private security would also be added, Ferguson said.
The agreement would be for one year, with officials revisiting the matter in January.
Ferguson said the district felt it was important to maintain the connection with the township, an idea echoed by township Supervisor Russ Ford. He said both sides made concessions and worked together for the common goal of keeping students safe.
He said supervisors will look at the letter of intent at their next meeting, and a more formal agreement will be developed moving forward.
King said getting that agreement in place is important, as hiring new officers will take time.