Board to help pay for guards

By Greg Gelpi

Voicing apprehension, the Clayton County Board of Education unanimously approved a proposal to help fund school crossing guards within county municipalities for the rest of the school year.

Responding to a proposal offered by Clayton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Crandle Bray, the school system will pay about $20,000, a third of the cost for 19 guards.

"They put us in a darned if you, darned if you don't situation," board member Ericka Davis said. "I have a problem with the county putting us in a guillotine."

Clayton County cut the 19 guards out of its budget for this fiscal year, leaving some schools with fewer guards and others without any guards at all.

The proposal asks the county and county municipalities to pay the other two-thirds. The county and municipalities must also approve the proposal.

Board members expressed concern for the safety of school children, but also concern that the school system would be left paying the whole tab in the future.

Before even taking a vote, board members began considering how the county could again cover the costs of the crossing guards.

"I found that there's a lot of good money that could be used," board member Allen T. Johnson said.

Interim Superintendent William Chavis suggested possibly using drug seizure money to cover the expense.

Davis said she is worried about setting a precedent.

"I just have a warm, fuzzy feeling that at the end of this Crandle will ask us to pay for all of the guards," Davis said.

Board attorney Gary Sams also raised the issue of authority. Crossing guards employed by the county hold authority to stop traffic and issue tickets. If the school system employed the guards, they would only have the authority to ask traffic to stop and no authority to issue tickets. The school system does have the ability to hire its own law enforcement, Sams said, although it has never done so.

Some board members felt slighted for having been excluded from a meeting held Monday between select school system officials and members of the county commission. Board member Bob Livingston said he wanted input into that meeting, although Johnson, who did attend the meeting, said school board members weren't allowed to speak at the meeting.

"We didn't receive an invite," Livingston said. "The (school) board controls the money."

Chavis, Deputy Superintendent Bill Horton and school system Chief Financial Officer Lee Davis were invited to attend the meeting.

"We're afraid the $20,000 venture will turn into a $150,000 venture," Lee Davis said.

With the acceptance of the proposal, the board must await decisions from the county and county municipalities on the proposal. Chavis said, though, that Bray would find a way to carry the burden if the cities don't accept the proposal.

The proposal would only fund guards for the remaining 91 days after the winter break. The county, municipalities and school board would have to resolve the crossing guard dilemma again at the end of the school year.

The board also approved an option for the extension of a 1-cent special purpose local option sales tax. Assistant Superintendent John Ramage pitched two options to the board, one including a wish list of items, such as auxiliary gyms at high schools, and the other a bare proposal, slashing many of the wish lists by 50 percent and dropping items such as the gyms. The board approved the option with the estimated cost of about $264 million, rejecting the $458 million proposal.

Voters will decide next fall whether to approve the sales tax extension.

The new SPLOST would build six new schools and add classrooms to 20 existing schools for a total of 649 classrooms.

In other business, the board also rejected an application for a charter school.