Raleigh City Council looks to double school crossing guards

ccampbell@newsobserver.comMay 15, 2014 

— City leaders want to nearly double the number of crossing guards who staff busy intersections near Raleigh elementary and middle schools.

A Raleigh City Council committee voted this week to add guards for at least 11 new locations where parents have requested them. The move would cost the city about $73,000 a year, and council members want to make additional money available to the 27 other schools where no guards have been requested.

“We don’t need to wait on a kid to get hit in order to do something,” Councilman Eugene Weeks said.

Raleigh police now provide crossing guards at 15 schools. Requests for additional locations are reviewed by city staff, who score each intersection based on the number of pedestrians, traffic volume and speed limit.

Under that criteria, the 11 new locations didn’t make the cut.

One was an intersection near Douglas Elementary, where the city eliminated a guard because of a low score. That prompted Kevin LeCount – a Douglas parent who’s also the political director for the State Employees Association of North Carolina – to ask the council to bring back the guard. LeCount and others at the school pointed to speeding cars and poor visibility there.

The Douglas site scored near the bottom of the 11 rejected intersections. Weeks also pointed out that he was unsuccessful in seeking a second crossing guard at Walnut Creek Elementary in Southeast Raleigh.

“We feel that our evaluation systems are fair,” city traffic engineer Jed Niffenegger said. “It would be nice to have crossing guards at every school, but it’s a resource issue.”

In some schools that don’t have crossing guards, teachers have been stepping in to help students cross the street. Wake County schools don’t have a formal policy for the practice.

“Our teaching professionals and school administrators oftentimes step into roles in an effort to ensure student safety,” schools spokeswoman Renee McCoy said.

If teachers fill the need, Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown said, “there is a liability piece in whoever was going to own that.”

Councilman Wayne Maiorano said he doesn’t think teachers should have to be crossing guards. “I don’t know that that’s the highest and best use of our teachers,” he said. “I’d rather see them volunteer on the ballfield or in the classroom.”

Each crossing guard location costs the police department about $6,700 per school year, with $136,000 currently budgeted for the program. Funding guards at every city elementary school and some middle schools would cost about $250,000 more.

Raleigh provides fewer crossing guards than other North Carolina cities. Greensboro has them at 18 schools, and Charlotte has them at 34 schools – including any intersection where five or more students cross.

If the full City Council approves the additional crossing guards Tuesday – and if the positions make the cut for next year’s budget – Raleigh will need a new policy for scoring future requests. The bar will be set lower.

Councilman John Odom said he’ll support the funding but added that he doesn’t think the city should bear the burden. “Wake County ought to be paying for it because it’s their job,” he said.

Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter

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