Mayor Catherine Pugh Funds Crossing Guards as City Council Calls for Hearing

Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer (Photo by David Stuck)

In recent months, Baltimore City Council members Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer and Mary Pat Clarke have heard, in overwhelming fashion, the concerns residents have with the decreasing numbers of crossing guards in the city.

The Department of Finance has proposed to keep those numbers at the reduced levels that are in place this school year, which include guards working two hours instead of the traditional four and having no substitutes.

While the proposed budget would maintain 290 crossing guard positions, only 246 were filled this year, resulting in the reduction of crossing-guard sites.

In response, Schleifer (D-District 5) and Clarke (D-District 14) — at Monday’s council meeting — introduced a resolution calling for a hearing to review crossing-guard issues. A hearing will take place in the Budget and Appropriations Committee on April 19.

“When it comes to public safety, you can’t play games,” Schleifer said. “Safety of our children is a top priority. Taking a holistic approach, we need to make sure our children are safe.”

Mayor Catherine Pugh on Monday announced she would maintain funding for the crossing-guard program in the city’s fiscal year 2018 budget, which begins June 30, 2017. The city has proposed a $2.8 billion budget.

She said she has urged the finance department to prioritize “high-volume elementary schools in the program,” ensuring children cross the street safely on their way to and from school.

“We entrust the safety of our children to these front-line workers every day during the school year,” Pugh said in a prepared statement. “It is a priority to have our crossing guards in place for the fall so parents can have peace of mind that their children are being properly cared for.”

While crossing guards are not stationed at all city schools, federal guidelines mandate that they must be at intersections where 350 cars or 40 children are counted eithe­r during morning or afternoon departure.

Clarke, citing the city school system’s crippling $130 million budget deficit, questioned how the budget has been appropriated in recent years.

The current number of 246 crossing guards in the $3.9 million program does not include substitutes, which were eliminated from the program starting this school year.

That loss of 64 crossing guards resulted in the reduction of 30 crossing stations since September 2015 despite having excess money in the budget to fund additional positions.

In the event crossing guards call out sick, Schleifer said it would be their responsibility to call their supervisor at the Department of Public Transportation and then the principal of the school where they are stationed. In doing so, it would be up to a designated parent of a child at the school to fill in for the crossing guard.

“The idea is that if you can get a conglomerate of parents who have the ability to assist, one of those parents would be able to make sure kids cross the street safely,” Schleifer said. “I thought it was a no-brainer, and it doesn’t cost a penny extra to have that crossing guard make those two additional calls.”

Even at the projected funding level, Clarke feels there are simply not enough crossing guards to provide the proper care children and their families deserve.

She fears that if the reduction in hours is again implemented into next year’s budget, it would force veteran crossing guards to seek other employment to make up for the lost wages.

But Clarke believes the mayor’s decision to bring back speed and red-light cameras in an effort to reduce traffic crashes and pedestrian accidents while increasing the city’s revenue could offset some of those shortcomings.

“Any change is always an improvement in finances, in my humble opinion,” Clarke said. “So I hope everyone will support us.”

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