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County could lose guards

By Trina Trice

Ten Clayton County schools could be losing crossing guards, according to the county's tentative 2004 budget.

The county is planning to cut the funding for 19 crossing guards to reduce the number from 53 to 34.

Last year the county funded crossing guards at 28 schools, but that number would drop down to 18 by the beginning of the 2003-2004 school year.

The county is requesting municipalities provide guards for schools within their jurisdiction. That request affects Forest Park, Jonesboro, Lake City, Morrow and Riverdale.

"It's not like we're trying to shun our responsibility," said Tommy Wright, coordinator of special services for the county. "We're in the children business and keeping them safe. But our main concern is kids walking to school."

Morrow City Manager John Lampl doesn't see it that way.

"It was a real surprise to watch Clayton County walk away from its children," Lampl said.

The city of Morrow, he said, provides a significant amount of the tax structure that contributes to the county's revenue, which is why he can't understand why the county is asking the city of Morrow to help fund a program it should already help fund.

Despite some city governments expressing disappointment in the cuts, the county asserts it is saving money.

How much money the county is saving from the cuts could be more than $110,000, but nothing is certain.

"We're anticipating new schools being added," said Crandle Bray, Clayton County Board of Commissioner Chairman.

"We're removing guards from inside the cities. Instead of providing double guards, we're moving down to single guards."

Mary Baker, parent of a former Mt. Zion Elementary School student, isn't surprised about the cuts.

"We lost our crossing guard more than a year ago," she said. "We only had one. We were told we didn't have enough children that walked to school. But the traffic is horrible there. I would like to see someone at all the schools, all the time, just to make sure people are slowing down."

The county's decision to cut the number of crossing guards and pass the cost to city governments "doesn't seem fair," said Riverdale City Manager Billy Beckett. "But there needs to be some discussion before we jump to conclusions," he said. "We have to see what the cost impact would be on the city. We're still working on the tentative budget, but we have not counted on school crossing guards."

Searching for funds in city of Jonesboro's budget will be tricky, according to Jonesboro City Manager Jon Walker.

The city's fiscal year begins January 1, unlike cities such as Riverdale and Morrow that begin July 1. The county and the school system's fiscal years also begin July 1.

Citing that the school crossing guards' employment would begin in August, Walker said "that's pretty much right in the middle of our fiscal year. Our budget is already tight for 2003."

Lee Street Elementary School is within the Jonesboro city limits which means the city will have to foot the bill for a school crossing guard. But Suder Elementary School on Jodeco Road lies in between the city of Jonesboro and Clayton County line.

"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.

Wright has tried to convince the school system to fund the cost of providing school crossing guards for the past 10 years, without success, he said.

School administrators did not return phone calls by press time and Clayton County Board of Education member Ericka Davis said she hasn't had time yet to discuss the issue or the school system's options with other board members.

But about cutting the number of crossing guards, Davis said, "Personally, I am not thrilled with it. At West Clayton Elementary School in my district, crossing Riverdale Road in the mornings and afternoons is particularly dangerous even with the crossing guard. I can not imagine what would happen without one, and I fear for the safety of our students. I believe we gravely err when we place a dollar sign on the safety of our children in this county and I hope that will not be the case when we discuss possibilities for a resolution to this issue."

The county's city governments could discuss how to deal with the school crossing guard cuts at the Clayton County Municipal Association meeting June 12.