By Greg Gelpi
When Clayton County students return to schools Tuesday following the winter break, they'll arrive more safely.
The Clayton County Board of Commissioners, Clayton County Board of Education and municipalities within the county reached an agreement to share the costs of school crossing guards for the rest of the school year.
"I'm glad to be going back because of the safety of the children," said Linda S. Hayes, who had worked as a crossing guard for 10 years before being let go. "The traffic is pretty fast. I felt bad about leaving."
Hayes will return to her station at the top of a hill outside of Hendrix Drive Elementary, where she had worked since beginning her job as a crossing guard.
"I don't mind going back, but we should have never left because of the safety of the children," Hayes said.
The county commission had previously funded all guards within the county, but cut guards within municipalities out of their budget for the fiscal year, removing 19 guards. The reduction left many schools with fewer guards and some without any guards at all. Last school year, 28 schools had crossing guards while only 18 schools have guards this year.
In Hayes' absence, Kathy Meza said her son was nearly hit crossing the street near Hendrix Drive Elementary, she said at the time. No one forces drivers to slow down, and nothing will happen until someone is killed, she said.
All 19 guards are hired, Chris Windley, the county commission's director of special services, said. Many of the guards let go before the school year were rehired.
"All of them are hired, and they'll be starting Jan. 6," Windley, who was responsible for the hiring, said.
Commission Chairman Crandle Bray proposed splitting the costs of the guards after many, including the Clayton County NAACP, voiced concern over the safety of children.
Dexter Matthews, the president of the Clayton County NAACP, addressed the school board on several occasions, stressing the life and death nature of the situation.
"I think we're all set to go," Bray said.
Bray's proposal had the county, school board and municipalities each paying about $20,000 for the remaining 91 days of the school year. After that, a new agreement must be reached.