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Guns in schools?

Published January 09. 2013 05:02PM

School districts can't scrimp when it comes to safety, and line items such as upgrades to security cameras, outdoor lighting and entrance doors will be in the Tamaqua Area School District budget in the coming year.

During committee meetings Tuesday, school board members and officials discussed the options, which include developing a district policy to allow certain staff members to be trained in handling firearms. Education committee members Eileen Meiser, Wanda Zuber and Larry Wittig, board president, gave approval to that request.

"The reasons for that are obvious," Wittig said, alluding to the recent school shootings in Connecticut. "We can have all the cameras, all the slow downs (improved entrances), but if someone truly wants to get into a building, they will."

Wittig explained that the identity of school employees who received the training and were armed with a concealed weapon would not be revealed. Instead, someone planning an attack on the school would be deterred by the threat of having to face an armed defense.

Board member Thomas Rottet said he would support such action.

"I'm all for the doors and the security cameras, but it's not going to prevent an incident," Rottet said. "It's a tough world we live in and it's the only way to protect them (students)."

Upgrades to the existing security systems at the district's schools, which range in age from about 30 to 50 years old, are pricey. According to Arthur Oakes, district maintenance manager, the cost to replace a door is about $2,500. There are about 60 doors to replace, which translates to a cost of about $185,000, he said.

Oakes is also preparing a list of areas where outdoor lighting for walkways and entrances can be improved, as well as developing new locations for security cameras and upgrades or replacements for existing cameras.

Unfortunately, the need to improve security dashes any hopes that monies for new band uniforms could be squeezed from next year's budget, Assistant Superintendent Raymond Kinder said.

"We do realize that the need for new band uniforms needs to be addressed," Kinder said. "We've had meetings to discuss it and everyone understands our asking to hold off on that for one more year."

The cost for new band uniforms would be about $71,000, less $10,685 for hats and plumes that was pledged from the band boosters. Kinder said that the administration will develop a plan for the purchase for the 2014-15 school year.

The first budget meeting for the 2013-14 school year will be held Feb. 27, according to district business manager Connie Ligenza. Ligenza also detailed a bright spot in the district's numbers crunch an unexpected refund which came to light as a result of the report the district received from the auditor general for the fiscal years ending 2009 and 2010.

Ligenza explained that the auditor general performs a "compliance audit" which ascertains whether or not a district is correctly reporting statistics regarding student populations. Those categories include "resident" and "nonresident" students. An example of a "nonresident" student could be a student in foster care, whose permanent address is another school district, but is in foster care in the Tamaqua School District. A district receives additional subsidy monies for "nonresident" students, Ligenza explained.

Because of a software glitch in a statewide program, non-resident students in Tamaqua were incorrectly reported as "resident" students. As a result, the Tamaqua Area School District didn't receive the subsidy monies it should have during that time frame. However, the district will receive that money, which is $83,000. Ligenza was not sure when the district would receive it.

Pastor Kevin Roberts, Bethany Evangelical Congregational Church, Tamaqua, submitted a facility use request. Roberts said due to the scheduled bridge repair on Route 209, near the Tamaqua High Rise, parishioners of his church will have difficulty attending services.

The bridge project is slated to begin April 2013 and continue through October 2014. Roberts said that each Sunday, an early service at the church is attended by about 30 people. However, the church's main service, at 10:30 a.m., may be attended by as many as 200 people.

Roberts asked for permission to use the middle school auditorium for Sunday services. Kinder said that the request will go through the proper administrators for consideration. Kinder also noted that due to school activities, such as plays or concerts, the auditorium stage could sometimes be cluttered with equipment or decorations.

Roberts said that wouldn't be a problem.

"I can work around a prop a lot easier that I can work around a bridge," Roberts said.

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