By Doug Hallett
The city’s adult school crossing guard program will have to be cut back unless city council agrees to extra spending in 2013 to deal with current problems, city staff are warning.
Staff have asked for $83,500 to hire someone who’d coordinate the program and also work part of the time as a parking clerk receptionist. Staff are also asking council for $59,000 to pay for wages, uniforms, training and related costs for new crossing guards and spare crossing guards in 2013.
“It is staff’s opinion this program cannot be sustained in its present format,” says a report prepared for a council committee meeting yesterday evening.
If council doesn’t approve extra funding during the 2013 budget process, the criteria for deploying adult school crossing guards “will need to be redefined and made more stringent,” the report says. The intent would be to make the program more sustainable by reducing the number of guards deployed. The program started in 2004 and has grown to 23 adult crossing guards stationed at 19 locations in the city. They help students get to and from school in spots not considered safe to be handled by elementary-school students trained as safety patrols. Unlike safety patrols, adult crossing guards can enter the street to stop traffic.
According to the city’s criteria for when adult crossing guards are needed, six additional guards are warranted at five locations, the report says. They are:
• Willow Road at Bonar Place
• mid-block on Colonial Drive in front of Sir Isaac Brock school
• Stephanie Drive at Rochelle Drive
• Metcalfe Street at Eramosa Road
• Metcalfe Street at Lemon, a spot near the newly rebuilt King George school that warrants two crossing guards, it says.
However, the program will be cut back rather than expanded if it doesn’t get more money in the 2013 budget, says Rod Keller, the city’s general manager of public works.
In conjunction with the Ontario Traffic Council, the city has worked out its own criteria for when adult crossing guards are needed, he said, noting “there is no strong provincial directive” covering this.
“We created it. We believe we could bring it back” by making the criteria more stringent in order to shrink the program if extra funding isn’t approved for 2013, Keller said in an interview Friday.
“It’s not easily done, though,” he added. “It is difficult to take something back from the public . . . but we’d have to do it, because it’s not working.”
He said staff haven’t yet examined what criteria they might use to scale back the program and eliminate crossing guards from some locations.
One place to start, he said, might be to take away the second guard from spots that have two. This would mean encouraging all children to cross at the place where the one remaining guard is, “which is a difficult thing to do,” he noted.
Part of the extra money being sought would be used to pay a small daily fee to spare crossing guards, who fill in when regular guards can’t work. This new “stand by” fee would be paid on days when the spares aren’t called in to work, in order to provide more incentive for people to sign up as spares.
Since the start of the current school year, the city hasn’t had any spares available, the report says. It attributes this not only to the current rate of pay, but also to the time it takes to do police checks required for “vulnerable sector” workers who interact closely with children.
This has meant that posts left vacant when regular crossing guards can’t come to work for any reason have had to be filled by city bylaw enforcement officers or traffic investigations staff, the report says. This happened 156 times from early September to Oct. 25, it says.
“We’ve been filling those gaps with fairly highly skilled people, which to me is not a good use of their time,” Keller told the Trib. “
The need for fingerprinting of some adult crossing guards as part of police checks, which recently has become a government requirement, has deterred some people from applying for the job of crossing guard, the report says. The job pays about $12 an hour.
“This process is not only lengthy, but is perceived by many potential recruits to be very invasive to their privacy and therefore, once aware of the process, they withdraw their application,” it says.
“These factors combined with issues such as working in poor weather conditions, irate motorists, upset parents and the relatively low rate of pay have created this recruitment challenge in Guelph and in many municipalities across the province.”
Currently, the city’s supervisor of traffic investigations is dedicating “an inordinate amount of time” to administering the adult crossing guard program, the report says.
Staff are asking for creation of a new $83,500 coordinator’s position to take on most of the administration of the program. The coordinator’s position wouldn’t amount to a full-time job, which is why the person hired would also do some other parking clerk functions, Keller said.