Students, Staff Petition for Cameras at Penn. High School

Jun. 20--BELLEFONTE -- As Bellefonte Area school board members decide how much to spend on security cameras at the high school, several recent developments have made installing a sophisticated system a likely proposition next year.

Dozens of high school students, staff, teachers and administrators sent a petition to the board Tuesday, urging it to purchase new security cameras.

A group of students recently vandalized the high school, threw a sweeper down a flight of stairs and broke Plexiglas signs, Aaron Barto, the district's director of physical plant, said. School administrators have said they do not want to see that happen to the $35 million high school under construction.

And the cost to install one of the most extensive systems came down about $6,000 in a new proposal prepared by State College-based Vigilant Security Inc. The total cost for the Vigilant package would be $140,278.

"How many cameras do we want to have to cover this building? That's the gist of it," said Barto, who presented the latest proposal to the board. Members are expected to make a decision at the next board meeting set for July 17, when they hope to have the most up-to-date budget information.

Funds to pay for the equipment would come from what the maintenance department didn't spend this year. But some costs could be reduced, as the school district is exploring the possibilities of getting a grant of about $20,000 to $30,000, Superintendent J. Tom Masullo Jr. said.

Board member Rodney Musser said he and fellow members always supported the idea of installing new security cameras. A majority had tabled the issue at the last meeting only to investigate the idea further and get more cost information, he said.

Musser also said he wanted "to make sure the public understands" that installing the cameras would not stop an incident like the shooting at Virginia Tech in April.

"These cameras would not prevent that, and we are all aware of it," he said.

Under the latest proposal, Barto said about 90 cameras would be installed to cover virtually every corner of the school -- lobbies, cafeteria, stairwells, gymnasiums, in corridors and outside the band room and classrooms, among other locations, the proposal states.

"We feel very strongly about this," high school Principal Anne Hutcheson said.

She said teachers and staff try to be present throughout the school, but they can't be in all places at all times. The cameras, which would be installed next year after renovations, will help to monitor those vacant areas.

"The building will be huge when all is said and done," she said.

The school's current cameras are about six years old, but even they've been helpful for administrators to identify misbehaving students. In the latest incident, some students were identified, Hutcheson said.

Barto said "the gentleman" who threw the sweeper down the stairs will get a bill for the damages.

Copyright (c) 2007, The Centre Daily Times, State College, Pa. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.