SOLON, Ohio — As the first director of security for the Solon City Schools, Jeff Pedicino was instrumental in designing and implementing the district’s security plan.
He also served with the Solon Police Department from 1982 to 2011 — the last 12 of those years as the Solon Schools’ Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) officer — and represented Ward 3 as a city councilman for 3½ years.
In recognition of those achievements and his retirement as the Solon Schools’ director of security, Pedicino was honored with a proclamation at the City Council meeting Monday (Feb. 1).
“Very rarely do you get someone who’s given so much — not just to the police department, not just as a colleague of ours on council, but also to our award-winning schools,” said Mayor Ed Kraus, who read the proclamation and presented it to Pedicino.
“If it wasn’t for Jeff and his push to Chief (Christopher) Viland, Joe Regano and everyone involved, we would not have a comprehensive security plan for our school system,” Kraus said.
Viland is the city’s former police chief. He held that position when Pedicino was hired as the Solon Schools’ director of security in August 2014.
Regano, who died in July, is the former longtime superintendent of Solon Schools, who appointed Pedicino to the newly created position.
Pedicino, whose retirement was effective Sunday (Jan. 31), told council that Regano and Fred Bolden — the district’s current superintendent, who was its director of business and personnel at the time — approached him about taking the job as director of security.
“It was an honor to become the first director of security for the school district,” Pedicino said. “At the board meeting when I was hired, (Regano) said I had the longest interview in the history of the Solon Schools — which was 12 years being the DARE officer — and (he also said) the journey that I was going to begin as that director was going to be a marathon and not a sprint.”
The proclamation credited Pedicino with the redesign and construction of the entrances to all school buildings to limit access and improve safety. He also instituted lockdown drills and hired and supervised security staff at all schools.
“He has been an outstanding asset, enhancing the lives of many, including the Solon schoolchildren, and is worthy of praise by the community and all of its citizens,” the proclamation read. “His commitment to the profession should be commended.”
Kraus said through Pedicino’s efforts, Solon has “a very secure school system.”
“In partnership with Chris (Viland), he made sure we have police officers with tactical training in our schools,” Kraus said. “We did not have that before.
“So, Jeff, thank you. We appreciate everything you did to change the trajectory of the security for our Solon Schools.”
Levy passage was key
In an interview, Pedicino said he believes he’s leaving the school district in a better place than it was when he started as director of security 6½ years ago.
“I didn’t do it by myself,” he said. “The staff bought into the things I suggested, students did the drills, and administrators and the Board of Education supported me.
“But most important was the residents of the city.”
Pedicino credited city voters with passing a 0.8-mill levy in 2013 that provided funding for security purposes.
Prior to the levy being placed on the ballot in November 2013, the district restructured and paid off 0.8 mills of debt, reducing the tax rate by that amount. The district then put the 0.8-mill levy before the voters.
In effect, this kept the tax rate the same — 0.8 mills came off from the debt restructuring and was added for safety and security, according to Tammy Strom, the district’s communications director.
The 0.8 mills were structured to be split between permanent improvements and operating expenses, with 0.4 mills dedicated to permanent improvements and 0.4 mills for operating expenses — but all for security-related enhancements, Strom said.
“The residents of Solon saw the need, I believe after Sandy Hook, to actually keep that levy going and direct it more toward security,” Pedicino said.
Twenty-six people — including 20 children — were killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting massacre on Dec. 14, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. It was the deadliest mass shooting at a K-12 school in U.S. history.
“I think after Sandy Hook, school districts throughout the country realized they needed to make changes, and our residents in Solon supported the issue,” he said. “Passage of that levy helped a lot in being able to improve the security of the district.”
Pedicino said the Sandy Hook Promise — a nonprofit organization founded and led by several family members whose loved ones were killed in the shooting — was “a great source of information” for him when he started his job.
“I also learned from other shooting incidents that occurred,” he said. “I just read everything I could about safety and security in schools.
“When I first got on, I went to Chardon and spoke to the superintendent (of schools) and police to see how they handled their (shooting incident at Chardon High School) in 2012. So it was kind of a self-learning process, added to my police experience.”
Started career in Aurora
A native of western Pennsylvania, Pedicino, 62, grew up in Maple Heights and graduated from Maple Heights High School in 1976. He started his career as an officer with the Aurora Police Department in 1980 while attending Cleveland State University.
He fell short of a bachelor’s degree at CSU, but he earned a certificate in labor relations from the university’s James J. Nance College of Business Administration.
After one year in Aurora, Pedicino served a year with the Garfield Heights Police Department before joining the Solon Police Department in 1982. He started as a patrolman in Solon and was promoted to sergeant before returning to being a patrol officer.
“When I learned that the DARE officer (for Solon Schools) was going to resign, I put my name in for that,” he said. “That was extremely rewarding, to be able to work with the kids and get to know them.”
After 12 years as the district’s DARE officer, Pedicino retired from the Solon Police Department in 2011, but he said that “wasn’t really a retirement.”
“At the time, I was executive secretary of the Ohio Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association” — the labor union for Ohio police personnel, he noted.
Pedicino was elected executive director of the OPBA in 2012 and served in that capacity until he accepted the position of director of security for Solon Schools.
“When Mr. Regano and Mr. Bolden approached me about (that position) in 2014, I said, ‘I actually have a full-time job, and I don’t know if it will change,’” he said. “But I decided to make the move and leave the police union and devote full time to the district.”
Pedicino said his job as director of security required long hours — “I would put in 10 to 12 hours a day and be on call the rest of the time” — but added that it’s been very rewarding.
“It was great going back (to the schools) because I knew the staff, and some of the kids remembered me from when I was DARE officer,” he said.
“It’s been an honor to be able to do something as important as security is, and I thank (the district) for entrusting the kids to me.”
By the same token, Pedicino said he knew it was time to retire.
“I’ve always dedicated a lot of time to whatever position I had,” he said. “I was brought up that when you do something, you do it to the best of your ability.
“The number of hours I’ve been putting in, being on call 24-7 and the constant thought process of what you need to do … it’s not that I’m burned out, but I’m getting a little bit older, and there are only so many hours in the day.”
At the Solon Board of Education meeting in October when Pedicino’s resignation was approved, Bolden said: “We are infinitely safer as a district now than we were six years ago, and a lot of that has to do with all the hard work that Jeff has done. He’s going to be sorely missed.
“He has really helped us build a program that I think rivals anyone in terms of the safety and security of our students,” Bolden added.
A new title: councilman
In January 2014, Pedicino was appointed to fill a vacancy on Solon City Council, and he served as the city’s Ward 3 councilman until he stepped down in July 2017.
“Doing this job (director of security) and serving on council was a lot,” he said. “It was a time commitment, and I was getting to the point where I wanted to focus solely on the schools.”
Vice Mayor and Ward 5 Councilwoman Nancy Meany said Pedicino “was a treasure to have on council,” noting he was “so organized.”
“I enjoyed so much working with you on council, and I was very sad when you left,” she told Pedicino. “But I knew when our world became so crazy, we needed somebody like you to go into the schools and make sure that our kids were safe.”
Every council member thanked Pedicino for his contributions to the schools and the city and wished him well.
“Jeff, the one thing I learned about you was no matter what you were doing, you put your heart and soul into it,” Ward 4 Councilman Marc Kotora said. “I know that you were able to bring about a lot of peace of mind to a lot of parents.”
Bender succeeds Pedicino
Jason Bender, a police detective and a 27-year veteran of the Solon Police Department, has been hired to succeed Pedicino as the Solon Schools’ director of security.
A 1985 Solon High School graduate, Bender started his duties Jan. 4 and Pedicino has been working with him over the past month to help with the transition.
At a recent school board meeting, Bolden said Pedicino will continue to work part time for the district as a consultant to help with that transition “because security is a never-ending struggle for us.”
Pedicino said the transition with Bender has gone well. He noted that he and Bender knew each other previously, from working together in the police department.
“I think he’ll do well,” Pedicino said. “He was in the detective bureau, working in the schools.
“I think continuing to have somebody from the Solon Police Department in that position, it keeps that continuity.”
Pedicino and his wife of 37 years, Laurie — who works as a classroom aide in the Solon Schools — have lived in Solon since 1985. They have two adult children, Jillian and Nicholas.
“I have no definite plans (for retirement), other than trying to get a little normality back to my daily life,” he said with a chuckle.
Read more from the Chagrin Solon Sun.