Crossing guard cuts costing cities

By Trina Trice

Students who attend Lee Street Elementary School in Jonesboro will have to be careful when they walk home from school ? they'll be crossing the streets alone.

The county cut funding for 19 crossing guards in its 2004 fiscal year budget, decreasing the number of guards from 53 to 34 and the number of schools covered from 28 to 18. Most municipalities, facing budget shortfalls of their own, will not be able to fund guards for schools in their jurisdiction.

"(The previous crossing guard) was very helpful," said Lee Street Elementary Principal Cassandra Hopkins. "That four-way stop sign in front of Lee Street can be dangerous."

The move to reduce the number of guards saved the county more than $110,000, according to Tommy Wright, coordinator of special services for the county.

Suder Elementary School in Jonesboro is an exception however.

"The entrance of the school is in the county, the exit, where the crossing guard is, is in the city," Wright said. "We're going to step up and maintain a guard" at the school.

Some city officials have been outspoken in their disappointment about the cuts, especially Lake City Mayor Willie Oswalt. Lake City is spending $5,000 for one school crossing guard and at a recent meeting of the Clayton County Municipal Association, Oswalt learned that Forest Park could wind up spending more than $50,000 to cover school crossing guard salaries.

When Oswalt spoke to Clayton County Board of Education Chairwoman Nedra Ware and Bill Horton, acting deputy superintendent for Clayton County Schools, he said he didn't like their response.

"They told me schools aren't in the school crossing (guard) business," he said.

Horton and Ware did not return phone calls by press time.

Hopkins understands that everyone is facing a budget crunch these days and knows she will have to devise a new plan to keep her students safe.

"I'm going to have to make sure there is an adult?to help our babies cross (the street)," she said. "I'll have to take from personnel. We wish we could have them (crossing guards) back. They are crucial, they really are."