All seven city crossing guard locations have been discontinued by the city. This follows an administrative decision made last week by Mayor Gary Graham.
Graham said on Friday he decided to discontinue the program because of police manning issues and the cost. He said the police are having difficulties finding reliable people to work as crossing guards and that they often had to pull its officers off the street to work as crossing guards during the busiest traffic periods of the day.
“If a patrol officer is taken off the street to work as a crossing guard, our minimum staffing requirements would obligate us to call in an additional officer on overtime to work patrol,” he said. “Otherwise, intersections go without a crossing guard, which has become an increasing occurrence.”
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The Public Safety Committee is expected to revisit the issue at its regularly scheduled meeting Monday. The meeting, starting at 5 p.m., will be held at the Public Safety Building.
For more than 20 years, the crossing guard program has been funded by the city and administered by the police department.
Graham said the program cost the city around $42,000 before administrative costs during the past school year. With administration costs, Graham estimated the annual cost to be about $75,000.
The total cost of the crossing guard program from January 2006 through December 2014 was $379,449, according to documents provided by the city.
Van Hook said on Monday it is difficult to find people who are willing to work as a crossing guard who were paid $9.93 an hour.
“If they don’t show up, it’s hard to get people to replace them at a minute notice,” Van Hook said.
Van Hook said he is comfortable with the administration’s decision to eliminate the crossing guard program.
If a patrol officer is taken off the street to work as a crossing guard, our minimum staffing requirements would obligate us to call in an additional officer on overtime to work patrol.
Mayor Gary Graham
“I think even if the city was willing to fund it, the school should administer (the program),” he said.
Graham said the city first informed local school officials about the possibility of eliminating crossing guards in 2009.
At that time, the city also decided to reduce the number of crossing guard locations from 11 to seven.
The city recently mailed a letter to the schools, informing them of its latest decision.
St. Clare Principal Milissa Faust could not be reached for comment.
District 90 Superintendent Carrie Hruby said she was aware of the city’s decision. She said the district will send a letter to parents, after she receives input from city officials.
“We have asked the city to provide us with any information that they’d like to communicate with our families,” Hruby said.
Hruby added the district does not plan to offer a crossing guard program. She cited her own district’s budget concerns.
The city’s decision to eliminate crossing guards, however, caught District 90 board member Mary Baskett by surprise.
“I’m really disappointed the city would drop that program after all of these years,” Baskett said. “This puts a lot of pressure on the district. I’m really worried about the safety of our kids.”
In 2015, former O’Fallon Police Capt. Mick Hunter conducted a study on the School Resource Officer (SRO) and Crossing Guard programs. The report recommended that the crossing guard program be discontinued, Graham said.
The city has subsequently met with the school district officials to share the results of the study and discuss next steps.
“If the school wants to have crossing guards and the city council wants to spends the money, that’s fine with me,” Graham said. “I’m not against kids. This is about government being efficient.”
Graham said after meeting with school officials recently, he doesn’t believe they are upset with the decision.
“They just don’t want to run it,” he said. “We don’t either.”
I’m really disappointed that we don’t care enough about the safety of our children.
O’Fallon Ward 4 Alderman Herb Roach
But Ward 4 Alderman Herb Roach said on Monday he was surprised by the city’s decision to eliminate crossing guards.
“I’m really disappointed that we don’t care enough about the safety of our children,” said Roach, who announced last week his intentions to run for mayor next spring.
“If safety for children is not a priority, what is a priority? Where is our priorities?” Roach said. “To me the priority has to be the safety of our children. To me it seems like a no brainer, especially since they have offered a crossing guard program, and the community has deemed it a priority. Why do we think now that it’s any safer now for our children. Can there be other means of administering a program like this to find better methods or finding more volunteers or people who want to be crossing guards? I’m sure these things can be looked at.”
As an alternative to crossing guards, the city will be looking at installing solar lit stop signs (like the stop sign currently installed at Third Street and Lincoln Avenue), Graham said.
A similar idea was proposed by Kevin Hagarty at the April 4 City Council meeting. But Hagarety’s amendment to the city’s current budget that would have allocated the city’s video gaming revenue to the O’Fallon public safety and public work departments failed by one vote on the City Council floor.
Roach, along with Ward 1’s Richie Meile, Ward 2’s Robert Kueker, Ward 3’s Jerry Mouser, who served as mayor pro tem, Ward 4’s Matthew Smallheer and Ward 6’s Ned Drolet supported Hagarty’s proposal.
But Ward 1’s Gene McCoskey, Ward 2’s Jerry Albrecht, Ward 5’s Mike Bennett, Ward 5’s Courtney Marsh, Ward 6’s Ray Holden, Ward 7’s David Cozad and Ward 7’s Harlan Gerrish opposed taking the video gaming revenue out of the city’s Strategic Planning Budget.
Roach said the Strategic Planning Budget was added as a line item to the city’s General Fund budget about three years ago, and now has over $750,000. Roach questioned how the city will use that money.
“Would it hurt the city if they spent $50,000 of that money to fund the crossing guard program?” he said.