Cities, county disagree on funding guards

By Billy Corriher

A proposed deal between the Clayton County Commission, the school board and the county's municipalities that would bring back 19 school crossing guards for this school year is getting a mixed reception from the cities.

The deal would split the cost of reinstating the crossing guards, who the commission let go at the beginning of the school year for budgetary reasons, between the commission, school board and cities. However, most of the burden would fall on the commission and the cities.

Earlier this week, the city councils of Morrow and Lake City rejected the proposal.

City Manager Gerald Garr said Lake City decided not to pay for a fraction of the guards because it was not the responsibility of the cities to provide school crossing guards.

"The city's position is that it's a function of the school board," Garr said.

Morrow City Manager John Lampl agreed with Garr's argument and said the city already provides some security in the schools.

"I've got a police car (patrolling the school zones) already."

Commission Chairman Crandle Bray said that, even if not all cities approve the plan, the county has already started the process of hiring the crossing guards.

"I'm counting on (the city councils) to come through," he said.

If some cities do reject the proposal, they could just be excluded from the deal, Bray said.

In Forest Park, the city council has already authorized Mayor Chuck Hall to hire crossing guards for schools inside the city limits, and Hall said he plans to bring the deal before the council at its Monday night meeting for a decision.

"That (deal) will give us time before school starts to have a number of dialogues to decide who is responsible (for hiring the crossing guards) and how to fund it," Hall said.

The Riverdale City Council thinks Bray's initiative was a "good initial proposal," but the city is presenting an alternate plan, City Manager Billy Beckett said.

The city wants a deal where it would pay for a share of the crossing guards based on how many students inside the city limits attend Riverdale schools, he said.

"We do feel a responsibility to provide that service for the city," Beckett said. But there are many students who live outside the city limits who attend schools in Riverdale.

At the beginning of the school year, the city provided a greater police presence around schools, Beckett said, but the city stopped until a more comprehensive solution was found.

Beckett said that, while it was not necessarily Riverdale's responsibility to provide guards, the city was disappointed at not being involved in the county's decision to eliminate the guards.

"We just felt we were left out of the dialogue," he said.

Many of the county's other municipalities, in the absence of crossing guards, have also increased their police presence at the schools.

Jonesboro City Manager Jon Walker said that, although the city feels it is not responsible for crossing guards, more police have been patrolling the school zones.

"We try to make sure the schools are a safe environment," he said. "But if (the officers) get a call when they're out there, there's nothing we can do."