Crossing guards, SPLOST to be discussed tonight

By Greg Gelpi

School crossing guards face one more hurdle tonight before being back to work.

A proposal floated by Clayton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Crandle Bray to resolve the school crossing guard situation will be brought to the Clayton County Board of Education at 7 tonight.

The county cut funding for 19 crossing guards from its budget, saving $110,000 and leaving many schools with fewer guards or none at all.

Bray proposed that the cost of school guards be split three ways between Clayton County, the school system and municipalities.

Lee Davis, chief financial officer of the school system, said he could find the money in the school system budget, but it wouldn't be easy.

All school system departmental budgets were cut 10 percent two years ago, Lee said, and costs continue to rise.

"We certainly did not budget for (crossing guards)," Davis said. "If they decide we're going to pay it, I'll find some way to pay it."

The school system would be responsible for about $20,000.

"(The) $20,000 is a lot of money to many people, but it's a fractional cost in the school system budget," he said.

Lee would probably take the money out of the superintendent's budget, Lee said, explaining that budget is used for legal matters and other costs that arise unexpectedly.

Some school board members had been working to replace the crossing guards after numerous complaints from parents and the Clayton County NAACP.

Parents filled in for crossing guards at some schools where vehicles sped through school zones and ignored children crossing streets.

Kathy Meza, one of those parents, had said her son was nearly hit trying to cross the street and that it would take a death for something to change.

In other business, a presentation will be made to the board regarding to the status of the current SPLOST and plans for a new one.

The current 1-cent special purpose local option sales tax expires in December 2004. John Ramage, assistant superintendent of facilities, construction and purchasing, presented SPLOST details to a committee of board members last month, stressing the need to start work on the new SPLOST immediately.

The current SPLOST is about $19 million under budget and projected to be $37 million under budget in a year because of the weak economy. It remains on track, though, to complete all of its proposed construction projects, Ramage told the committee. The weak economy has decreased the tax collection, but has also lowered the costs of construction.

The SPLOST has funded the construction of five new schools and renovations at all of the county's schools.

In order to meet projected enrollments, the school system must add 649 classrooms by the 2007-2008 school year. A new SPLOST would fund this construction.

The board will meet at the Clayton County Public Schools Facilities and Purchasing Complex at 218 Stockbridge Road in Jonesboro. The Facility/Purchasing/Transportation Committee of the Clayton County Board of Education normally meets at that location. The special meeting will include all board members so that actions can be taken.