When the Octorara school board approved a contract last week for an armed security officer from a private company, it was the first district in Lancaster County to do so.
But not the first to have armed personnel on campus.
Nine of the county's 17 public school districts have armed school resource officers, who are active police officers. SROs are employed by local police departments.
Warwick is the only local district other than Octorara that uses a security officer. He's employed by the district and doesn't carry a gun.
Of the 141 school districts across Pennsylvania that had some type of armed security staff last year, 88 used SROs, according to the state Department of Education.
Octorara's decision is unusual in other ways, too.
The contract went to Signal 88 Security, a Parkesburg company, which was the highest bidder for the contract.
And the company is owned by former Octorara school board member Peter Mango.
The two other bids were about $10,000 less than the Signal 88 contract, which totaled $58,867.
The contract is less than some districts' SRO contracts, but higher than others. For instance, Conestoga Valley pays $82,052 for its SRO. Manheim Central pays $46,255.
Superintendent Thomas Newcome said by phone Wednesday that Signal 88 met the district's specifications better than two lower bidders.
In his recommendation to the board, Newcome said that Echelon Protection and Surveillance, of Limerick, and Security Guards Inc., of Wyomissing, did not have experience with armed security in schools.
"I am reticent to have our district be the first experience for a firm in providing this level of service," Newcome wrote.
Board member Tim Alexander said by phone Wednesday that the district should have sought bids from companies that met what the board was looking for.
"After the bids came in, it seemed like there was a shifting sand on the standard," said Alexander, who cast the only dissenting vote on the Signal 88 contract.
Mango, Signal 88's owner, was on the Octorara School Board as early as 2004, according to Lancaster Newspapers records. He resigned in 2009.
Alexander said that fact wasn't mentioned at board meetings until the night of the vote.
"I was disappointed it was not brought to my attention (sooner). Now I'm put in a position that I now have to memorize all the board members from the last 25 years."
Newcome said nepotism didn't play into Signal 88's selection but Mango's familiarity with the district is "an added bonus" to the company's qualifications.
The school board decided in June to hire an armed officer after a year of debating the matter.
The bids came through invitations to companies. Newcome said he searched for relevant companies within the region.
Newcome said he invited Parkesburg Borough Police to submit a bid, which would have been for a school resource officer, but the department didn't respond.
The board has stipulated that Signal 88 provide a security officer with 15 years experience on a police force — likely a retired officer, like Warwick employs.
Newcome expects the officer to start in mid-September.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the Signal 88 officer's hourly wage. The hourly cost to the district for the officer, vehicle costs and insurance will be $40.88.