STRATTANVILLE - An agreement between the Clarion County Commissioners and Clarion-Limestone for the district to receive school resource officer services through the county sheriff's department is in jeopardy -- and district officials recently questioned why.
The matter of sheriff deputies' ongoing presence at C-L schools was broached during the school board's May 14 meeting conducted via Zoom.
During her report, superintendent Amy Glasl said she had recently spoken with an unnamed Clarion County commissioner regarding the county sheriff's department continuing to provide deputy services at the district during school hours.
The district has received such services since the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year through an agreement with the county. The current agreement is set to expire June 30.
Glasl said the commissioner told her during a short conversation she would receive a new services contract draft at some point.
"I hadn't heard anything so I called that commissioner today (May 13) and his response to me was that they are not going to renew the (school resource officer) that we've had for six years," Glasl said. "He said it would be a lot more money and I wouldn't even want to know the amount it's going to be."
Glasl said she expressed her displeasure to the commissioner, adding, "There were a couple other comments about certain things that I didn't agree with."
Board president Dave Schirmer questioned why the commissioner felt costs would increase, specifically if an agreement similar to the preceding contract could be reached.
"So they're not really worried about the health and safety of the children in our district," Schirmer asked. "To my knowledge in the past, we were paying the sheriff's deputy. It was a wash. The county was not incurring any more costs than what it was (already) costing them. We were paying for that."
Glasl said the commissioner indicated because the county's recently settled contract with the sheriff's deputies had included a pay raise, the county would in turn have to pass on the raise and healthcare costs onto the district.
Additionally, Glasl said the commissioner told her other local districts want the deputies' services at their own schools, but since C-L already uses them, the other districts cannot.
"My comment to them is we're paying the freight," Schirmer answered. "If the other schools want to have one and they want to pay the freight, whatever, it's a wash."
Schirmer asked Glasl to draft a letter to the commissioners, requesting a cost breakdown of the services to be available for review before the school board's June 24 meeting.
Several board members and Glasl also voiced interest in attending the commissioners' next meeting set for 10 a.m. May 26, which will be held via Zoom.
Thereafter, board member Nathaniel Parker questioned whether disputes between the commissioners and county sheriff Rex Munsee might have something to do with the services' termination.
The commissioners rejected the sheriff's move Jan. 14 to hire former county district attorney Mark Aaron, a Limestone Township resident and C-L alum, as a deputy sheriff.
Aaron was eventually hired as a deputy sheriff after commissioners acknowledged during a Jan. 21 work session that row officers have full hiring authority for already existing positions.
On April 14, the county salary board eliminated the position referred to as the "C-L" deputy. Two other deputy sheriffs were furloughed as part of COVID-19 related moves.
The salary board for that particular meeting consisted of commissioners Wayne Brosius, Ed Heasley, Ted Tharan, Treasurer Tom McConnell and Munsee.
"We should all be aware of what I would call an ongoing feud according to the paper between the sheriff, who is a resident of our district and is supportive of our school, and the commissioners," Parker said. "I can't help but wonder if we're not collateral damage to this ongoing feud."
Parker continued, "I think we should be pointed and direct about it and ask why they are punishing our kids because they're having some feud with the sheriff."
Schirmer and board member Dave Eggleton agreed with Parker's assessment.
"From what I read in the paper, this is a feud between the sheriff's office and the commissioners and you're exactly right, we're suffering collateral damage because of that," Schirmer said. "As far as I'm concerned, that's absurd. They should be looking out for the health and safety of our children."
Schirmer added if received, district officials would look at the projected costs of a new agreement and verify their accuracy as soon as possible.
"If it comes in at $100,000, which I don't think it will, that's a decision we'll have to make," Schirmer said. "My personal feelings are I don't think the change is as significant as they're saying."
Eggleton said in the meantime, the board should also look at other school police options. He said none of the municipalities the district serves have their own police department.
"I know that Union uses an outside company that consists of retired state police," Eggleton said. "Maybe we can look at that option and at least get a bid from them so we have something to compare it to."
Schirmer said the district cannot go without some sort of police presence. He estimated unless state troopers happened to be driving by the school, the response time to an emergency could take roughly 20 minutes.
"That's probably being conservative," Schirmer said. "It might be half an hour before they can get there and if we had a situation that required on-site police services, it might be too late."
The school board will next meet at 6:30 p.m. June 24.n