As the Gainesville Police Department prepares its budget for next year, Chief Frank Hooper has notified Gainesville schools the department may not be able to fund crossing guards next school year.
Hooper said the department absorbed a 5 percent budget cut midyear, and has yet to see concrete revenue figures on which to build a budget for next year. Rather than eliminating crossing guards completely, Hooper said he hopes to shift the financial responsibility for guards from the police department to the Gainesville school system.
“We’re looking at some of the services we provide and basically, the crossing guards have very little to do with the police department,” he said. “... In my opinion, this function will still continue, it will just come out of the school system’s budget, not the police department’s.”
Hooper said after the police department hires, trains and assigns crossing guards, the department has limited interaction with them.
He said school officials typically oversee guards as they help children cross the street and direct buses and traffic.
According to Hooper and Melody Marlowe, Gainesville’s chief financial officer, the city budgeted $61,716 for eight school crossing guards. Hooper said seven guards assist students and parents at four elementary schools and at Gainesville Middle School.
“This is not a done deal. This is still something we’re examining,” Hooper said of the proposed cut.
He said the police department will make the decision on whether to fund crossing guards by June 30. Hooper said if the school system pays for the guards, the police department will continue to provide training and equipment.
Gainesville schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said the system may be able to take on the responsibility of employing guards if some current employees’ duties are expanded to include guard duty.
She said crossing guards work two hours each school day. Guards work one hour in the morning as schools open and another hour in the afternoon as schools close.
Dyer said the school system may be able to put cafeteria workers or paraprofessionals in the role of crossing guards. The changes would require some workers to come in an hour earlier or stay an hour later.
“We’d basically be adjusting their hours and assigning them duties to be a crossing guard,” Dyer said.
She said some employees already have expressed interest in taking on roles as guards and earning extra pay. Dyer said the additional hours would not have a significant impact on the system’s budget.
Whether the school system or the police department pays for crossing guards, parents say they are a necessity.
Paulina Castillo, parent of an Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy student, said she is one of many parents who pick up their children in the afternoons. She said by about 2:25 p.m., there’s a long line of cars trailing down Enota Drive.
Castillo said crossing guards help buses get out of the Enota parking lot and keep the carpool line flowing.
“Without them, traffic would be pretty bad over here,” she said. “It gets pretty congested.”
Cheryl Harr, parent of Enota and Gainesville Middle students, said her 11-year-old son often walks to and from Enota. Harr said if crossing guards hadn’t been present at Enota in past years, she would not have felt comfortable letting her son walk to school when he was younger.
“It makes me feel he’s a lot safer,” she said.
Mary Brzozowski has been a crossing guard at Enota for the past two years. Brzozowski, who was one of 18 children in her family, said she doesn’t do it for the money, she does it to keep kids safe.
“A lot of times, the cars don’t want to stop to let the buses in and out. If we aren’t here next year, it’s gonna be chaos,” she said. “... (Cars) come around that corner, like really fast.”
Although Gainesville has yet to determine how it will fund school crossing guards next year, the state House of Representatives is working on funding for school nurses.
House budget writers on Tuesday put together $29 million for school nurses, which the governor had cut. Some of the cash came from federal stimulus dollars.
Mamie Coker, health services coordinator for Hall County, said she’s relieved to see legislators taking action to keep school nurses.
Coker said she believes the statewide outcry against cutting nurses was heard by state officials. She said the Hall County school system employs 33 nurses. Nurses are stationed at all but four county high schools, and other nurses coordinate the nursing program or attend to special needs students.
“I think the legislature and the governor got educated on the value of school nurses,” she said.
Coker said school nurses realize they aren’t yet in the clear. The General Assembly and Gov. Sonny Perdue have yet to give the $29 million school nursing expenditure their stamp of approval.
“We know this is just the first hurdle. We have many more hurdles to clear,” Coker said.