Bethlehem Press

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Pa. safety grants a boon, raise questions

Tuesday, May 28, 2019 by nate jastrzemski njastrzemski@tnonline.com in Local News

Governor Tom Wolf announced last week the approval of $40 million in safety grants to 234 school entities throughout the state.

“These grants are the mechanism we need to create local strategies that will increase safety for our children and our teachers and prevent violence in classrooms and communities across the commonwealth,” Wolf said in a statement. “Schools should be safe, secure places for our children to focus on their education and on preparing themselves for a lifetime of success, not another place we need to worry about sending our children. Awarding these grants to more than 200 schools means a safer Pennsylvania.”

Local districts which received grants include: Saucon Valley, about $155,000; Salisbury Township, $150,000; Palisades, $131,500; and Northampton, about $308,000.

Saucon Superintendent Dr. Craig Butler said via email, “We are one of the recipients. Our award amount is roughly $154.000. The grant will be used primarily for enhanced communication devices (high quality radios) and a district-wide state of the art camera and surveillance system, and other safety-related equipment. We are thrilled that we are one of the awardees.”

But some local administrators are feeling left out; none of the major Lehigh Valley districts – Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton – were chosen, leaving questions about the reviewers and applicant qualifications.

Bethlehem Area School District Superintendent Dr. Joseph Roy said in an email, “I was surprised and disappointed that BASD was not award a safety grant. There are some very very small districts that received a lot of money – and larger, urban districts that did not. The money was allocated by region and supposedly by population. Although if you divide Pa. into regions, it’s pretty difficult to simultaneously balance population with such large swaths of rural areas in the state.”

Roy said the money was allocated by region and population, which is a difficult balance.

As examples, Roy cited: Brandywine Heights, with 1,400 students ,received a grant for $562,775; and Bellwood Antis, with 1,270 students received a grant of $628,000, or $494 per student. A comparable per student award for BASD would be $6.7 million.

“Or my personal favorite,” said Roy, “Salisbury-Elk Lick SD with a total of 265 students received $350,000, or $1,320 per student. Salisbury-Elk’s total budget is only $4.6 million. A comparable per student award for BASD would be $18 million.”

Roy explained how BASD would have made use of new safety grant funds. “Our application focused on expanding behavioral health services at the elementary and middle levels and expanding security camera coverage. We continue to work with our community partners to expand behavioral health services and are partnering with Community in Schools through a grant they received to expand services. Regarding cameras, we have a schedule of upgrading and expanding our camera systems each year – the grant would have helped to speed up that process.”

Roy said he asked Sen. Lisa Boscola’s office for assistance, as did this reporter.

Boscola spokesman Kurt Derr told The Press the Pa. Commission on Crime and Delinquency had already responded to inquiries, explaining the basics of the decsion-making process and saying specific answers would be forthcoming. “PCCD told us there were strict guidelines on the review process, overseen by three independent reviewers. He said districts will soon be informed of the reviewer’s notes on their applications. “The reviews will be out in about two weeks, because the districts have questions.”

Derr said there were 630 total applications statewide requesting $170 million out of the $40 million available, and Boscola will continue to advocate for such grants in future budgets, at which point districts will have had time to refine their application processes with the reviewer notes.