AUGUSTA — Students who walk to school will be on their own getting across city streets for at least the start of this school year — all 10 city crossing guard positions have been eliminated.
School officials said the crossing guards were cut because so few students walk to school. Administrators noted that a review showed no students crossed at five of the 10 crossing locations in the morning or afternoon.
School board members on the committee that voted to cut the positions said they will re-evaluate whether crossing guards are needed after the school year starts and could reinstate positions if the need is there. The first day of school in Augusta is Aug. 27 for students in grades one through nine.
Parent Jason Wyman, whose sons cross busy four-lane Western Avenue regularly to get to school, worries that the evaluation period with no adults on hand to stop cars at crossing locations could include a young child being struck by a speeding car.
“So they’re going to see how it goes — what, until a kid gets hit? Until my kid gets hit?” he asked. “All it takes is once. I couldn’t believe they’d done this.”
Deborah Towle, Ward 2 school board member and chairwoman of the Personnel Committee, which voted 3-0 to eliminate crossing guards, said no students crossed the street at five of the 10 crossing locations, which are generally near elementary schools. Officials didn’t say how the review was conducted.
She said that most of the others are bus stops, where students can safely cross when a bus is there with its lights flashing.
Board Chairwoman Susan Campbell, who is also on the Personnel Committee, said with few if any students using the crossing guards and with a new realignment of elementary schools meant to equalize their populations, the committee decided “to put crossing guards on hold and then re-evaluate in the fall to determine where crossing guards are actually needed.”
Superintendent James Anastasio said committee members spent a lot of time talking about the safety of students before making the decision. He said cost was a factor, but not the driving factor.
“Things have changed,” he said. “When I was young, everybody walked to school. Now the vast majority of elementary school students are now either bused to school or transported by parents. If you go by an elementary school in the afternoon, you’ll see how many parents, grandparents and neighbors are there to pick up students.”
Previously, the 10 crossing guards were paid for three hours a day at $8.93 an hour, according to minutes of the Personnel Committee meeting. With 175 days in the school year and with 10 crossing guards working three hours a day each of those days, the total cost for the year would be about $46,800.
Towle said parents who are concerned about the change may call the superintendent’s office. She said board members will revisit the issue some time after the start of the school year.
Wyman learned earlier this summer from a crossing guard that the guard positions had been cut.
He said he was surprised to learn what he’d heard was true, and that there was little or no public discussion about the change.
Wyman said even he, as an adult using the crosswalk, doesn’t feel safe crossing Western Avenue where his sons cross between Sherwin Williams and Pizza Hut. The speed limit is 25 mph, but, he said, people drive much faster.
His youngest son, Keygan, just turned 10 and will be a fifth-grader at Lincoln Elementary School on Lincoln Street and a roughly three minute walk from their home.
Older son Ayden is entering the seventh grade at Cony.
Ayden can’t walk his younger brother to school because he has to leave earlier to catch a bus near the Pizza Hut.
Wyman said he works nights and his wife, Kerri, works days, so while they try to give their sons rides to and from school, 90 percent of the time they aren’t available to give them rides twice a day. He said they’ve taught the boys to never step beyond cars that have stopped for them at the crosswalk on four-lane Western Avenue without looking, because the car in the next lanes may not stop.
“Western Avenue, even with crosswalks, is still dangerous to cross,” Wyman said. “People don’t do the speed limit there. Sometimes we bring them to school, but we can’t always be there twice a day. And there are at least a couple of other kids who cross there too.”
In previous years, the Augusta Police Department hired and oversaw the crossing guards, but they were paid by the school department, according to Deputy Police Chief Jared Mills.
This year the police department asked to hand over its previous responsibility for overseeing the crossing guards to school officials who, Anastasio said, agreed to take it on.
Towle said school officials reviewed the crossing guards as part of taking oversight of them from the police department and as part of that review discovered how few students were walking to school.
“There were several where no kids were even crossing,” she said. “Every stop was evaluated. We’ll definitely look back into it.”
The cuts include a crossing guard paid for by Augusta Schools and stationed near St. Michael School at the intersection of Western Avenue and Sewall Street.
Keith Edwards — 621-5647