Bellefonte gets grant for school resource officers



BELLEFONTE — Bellefonte Area School District has been awarded the second phase of a two-year grant that helps keep schools safe.

This will be the fourth year that the district has had funding in the form of the Safe Schools grant to help cover the costs of its two school resource officers, also known as SROs. The grant is run through the U.S. Department of Education.

“The Safe Schools grant is a critical source of funding that helps us offset district costs for safety upgrades and resources,” said Superintendent of Schools Michelle Saylor. “In some cases, there are elements we may have put off implementing if funding were not available.”

Regardless of whether the school had received the funding, the district would not forego any upgrades or programs that prove critical to a safe learning environment for students and staff, Saylor added.

This is the second year of the two-year grant, with $60,000 awarded during the 2016-17 school year and $30,000 awarded for the 2017-18 year. According to Pamela Vaiana, dean of students and district grant writer, the district has applied for and received the Safe Schools grant twice, first for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years. The current grant funding was applied for in May 2016, with a deadline of June 2016.

Each year, the funding from the Safe Schools grant partially covers the cost of the two positions, Vaiana explained. According to Ken Bean, district director of fiscal affairs, the total amount budgeted for the SROs for the 2016-17 year was $140,000, with $150,000 for the current school year. The district pays 75 percent of the costs involved with having the SROs, as they work for the district nine months of the year.

In 2008, the Bellefonte Borough Police Department implemented the school resource officer position and it has helped make the district safe since, Vaiana said. There was only one school resource officer in the district until a second position was added for the elementary schools during the 2014-15 school year.

The two officers currently keeping the schools safe are Mike Lyons and Shawn Luse. Both officers respond to calls and conduct classes at the elementary school, with Officer Lyons working out of the high school and Officer Shawn Luse working out of the middle school.

There are many duties that each SRO must uphold, Vaiana said. These include handling any criminal incidents that happen on or around school property, enhancing the delivery of law enforcement-related education to students in the district, promoting a better understanding between local law enforcement and students, and meeting with students and providing law enforcement-related counseling and referrals. Some of the essential functions these officers must perform include handling assaults, bomb threats, weapons, terroristic threats, and alcohol and drug-related incidents.

In having SROs, Vaiana said the district and the local police department are able to work collaboratively to further reduce juvenile crime and crimes on school property. The officers are also able to build rapport between students and law enforcement.