By Steven Hoffman

Staff Writer

Kennett officials are hoping to utilize a grant that is available over the next two years to increase the amount of police protection in schools.

Kennett Square Borough Police Chief Ed Zunino outlined the quickly developing plan at the Nov. 18 borough council meeting. He said that the state has made grant money available—up to $60,000 in the first year and up to $30,000 in the second year—to help municipalities or school districts pay for school resource officers that would work to improve safety in the schools. But the timetable to submit applications is short.

In this case, Kennett Square, which has its own full-time police force, is applying for the grant with the support of the Kennett Consolidated School District. Zunino said that the police officer who would be placed in the schools would work under the command of the police department, but would work collaboratively with school district officials.

 “We won’t have to hire an additional officer. This will be an assignment from the police force,” Zunino explained. “The goals and objectives will be set by the school district and the police department.”

The police department and the school district are already accustomed to working together. Zunino said that police officers might be able to make about 18 walk-throughs of schools during any given month. The police protection would increase greatly with a school resource officer on duty full time.

Zunino said that when he first started his law enforcement career in the 1970s, having a police presence was an indication of a troubled school. But today, in the aftermath of numerous school shootings in otherwise quiet communities across the country, that viewpoint has changed. More school districts are looking for ways to increase the police presence to reduce violence, stop drug trafficking, and to prevent would-be criminals from entering a school.

Zunino noted that a school like Kennett High School has more than 1,200 students with approximately 90 staff members to supervise them. A police officer focused exclusively on security can be an asset and would help keep both the staff and students safer.

Zunino said that the police department has a responsibility when it comes to school safety.

Kennett Consolidated School District Superintendent Dr. Barry Tomasetti talked about the opportunity to utilize the police department as a deterrent to criminal activity.

“We have a great relationship with the Kennett Square police department,” he said. “We want anyone who has ill intent to be unsure whether there are police officers there.”

He added that another useful goal for the school resource officer would be to develop relationships with students so that they learn that they can trust the officers to help them deal with issues.

Kennett Square mayor Matt Fetick said that the hope is that, if the borough is successful in securing the grant, a police officer could be assigned to the schools and there would still be no additional police staffing needed.

Fetick added that utilizing the grant opportunity would be a way for the borough and the school district to implement the program and then evaluate its success to determine if it will be continued when the extra funding is no longer available.

In the future, there could be discussions with other municipalities in the school district to determine how the costs for the position can be shared.

Tomasetti also said that the district is willing to share in the costs that aren’t covered by the grants.

Kennett Square Borough Council members responded positively to the idea and gave their support to submitting the grant application.

“I think we would be foolish not to go after the grant,” said Kennett Square Borough Council President Dan Maffei. He added that it was a good opportunity to improve the safety that is afforded to the staff and students in the schools.

Fetick said that “a lot of discussions took place in three or four days” between the borough officials and the school district because of the short time period that is allowed for the applications. 

“We don’t want to miss this grant opportunity,” Fetick said.

Tomasetti expressed his gratitude on behalf of the school district for the cooperation and quick action from borough officials.

Zunino said that he has talked to officials from other school districts that have school resource officers and they are all pleased with the results.

“This grant would allow us to put an officer in schools full-time,” Zunino said. “I think it’s very important that we do this.”