Columbia Borough won’t renew agreement with Columbia Borough School District to train, pay community safety officer | Community News | #schoolsaftey

When: Columbia Borough Council meeting, June 13.

What happened: Council members voted 6-1 not to renew their agreement with Columbia Borough School District to train and pay a community safety officer to work for the district when classes are in session and to work for the borough when students are not in school. Council member Sharon Lintner cast the only vote to preserve the agreement.

Details: The contract, which pays $95,415 per year, is set to expire around Aug. 14. No one currently holds the job. The school district covers $42,419 of that cost while the borough pays $52,996. Although the borough pays 30% of the officer’s salary, it funds training and uniforms, which increases the municipal portion, Mark Stivers, borough manager, said after the meeting.

More: School board President Charles Leader, Vice President Lauren VonStetten and members Sandy Duncan, Sonya Duncan, Kathleen Hohenadel and Christine Misciagna attended the meeting. At times, school board and borough council members spoke over each other.

Quotables: “We would urge you to maintain this agreement,” Leader read from the school board’s prepared statement before the vote. School board members “are committed to the safety of our children and will take appropriate steps to ensure their security,” Leader said. “Our preference is to do this in partnership with the borough.”

Response: However, council President Heather Zink said statistics from Pennsylvania’s Department of Education fail to justify a need for such an employee. “Per numbers from the state, there isn’t a crime and violence problem at your schools,” Zink said and shared that Columbia schools reported one bullying incident during the 2021-22 school year, one fight at the high school, five fights at the middle school and two fights at the elementary school.

Opposing view: Lintner offered a different view. “Having a CSO in our schools promotes the safety and well-being of students in our district, which should be a priority,” she said in a June 20 text message.

More: Zink noted during a June 22 phone call that school board members approved hiring a security person in May. The district can pay for its own security presence at schools and call police officers if needed, she said. The person recommended for that position did not take the job.

Background: In August 2022, council and the school district agreed to pay for a safety officer after the police department had trouble filling the job for a school resource officer, who must be a member of the police force. Both jobs allow the employee to carry a firearm.

Details: A civilian can become a safety officer and create relationships with students while providing a first response from the police department. The position, however, has remained unfilled for most of the school year.

Dates: The first safety officer resigned after three days in September 2022. A second officer worked for six weeks before leaving the position last spring.

Coming up: Leader declined to comment after the vote. Council members and school board members indicated they will continue to negotiate a new agreement that could put a safety officer in schools in the fall.

Quotable: “We are trying to set up a meeting as soon as possible,” Stivers said during a June 22 phone interview.

New gear: Council voted to spend $75,000 on portable radios for police officers after the police department took advantage of a discount which shaves $75,000 off the total cost.

More: For the first time, Columbia police officers who travel to York will be able to radio York police officers directly, because the radios have dual bands of communication.

What’s next: Council will meet at 7 p.m. June 27. The meeting will be streamed on the borough’s Facebook page.

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