Council: Resource officer is a great idea, but who will pay for it?

PUNXSUTAWNEY — During their monthly meeting Monday, several of the members of Punxsutawney Borough Council said they supported the idea of a police resource officer at Punxsutawney Area High School, but asked who is going to pay for it.

“There’s a need for a resource officer to assist with the prevention of crime at the high school,” said Georgette Pennington, a concerned parent who, last month, discussed her concerns with the Punxsutawney Area School Board.

Pennington said a police resource officer would help expand crime prevention with students and in the community, as well.

“The atmosphere at school is progressively getting worse and has now carried over to the younger students,” Pennington said, adding it stems from when the eighth-graders moved to the high school and has carried over to middle school students.

She said council members should attend the 7 p.m. school board meeting tonight at the Central Office Board room.

“I think a resource officer would make a big difference in the lives of our children,” she said. “How will we know it won’t work until we try?
“Anyone who lives in our town and claims not to know anything about drugs and crime problems in our schools is turning a blind eye to it,” Pennington added.

Council President Larry Chenoga said Police Chief Tom Fedigan and his department do an excellent job of responding to problems at the high school.

“The state police and Sheriff’s department also back up the borough police if needed to do so,” Chenoga said.

Funding is a major stumbling block toward paying for a resource officer.
“You have to look at the big picture,” Chenoga said. “I agree with you that an officer is needed, but the school board has to be on board with this.”

He said the school board is currently attempting to balance the district’s budget to not raise taxes. And these days, grants to fund a resource officer are impossible to find.

“Our own borough budget worries me for next year,” he said. “I won’t sit here and make any promises. We don’t have bushel baskets filled with money here and only have tax dollars to balance our budget.”

Fedigan said from speaking with council, that if the school district doesn’t want a resource officer, there won’t be one.

“I’m on your side; I don’t oppose anything that you’ve said,” he said, adding that he would prefer to meet with the school board in a private meeting and not in public.

“If I could have a resource officer, I’d have one up there tomorrow raring to go,” he said.

Council member Robert Reesman said council has always been willing to discuss things with the school district.

Fedigan said the resource officer also teaches a class and spends time with students.

“Many districts have had one for years,” he said. “That officer is on scene for any fight calls or discipline calls.”

Chenoga said the council will try to set up a meeting with the school board to discuss the idea.

Council member Bill Spencer said the school district is run by the state and covers a large area — not just Punxsy. Thus, he said he believed that the Pennsylvania State Police that should provide an officer to the school.

Resident Peter P. Pape said he wanted to commend Pennington for telling council the things that are wrong with the schools.

“Sounds like the school board needs to get some more people with backbone on the school board,” he said, adding that it’s not fair to make council feel guilty that there isn’t an officer at the school, when it has nothing to do with it.

Following the meeting, Pennington said she had five notebooks filled with signatures in support of the resource officer idea.

“I have two more books still out; I’m planning to go to the school board meeting tonight,” she said. “I hope the board can sit down and talk with the members of council regarding the proposal for a resource officer. I won’t quit until I get it.”