In an effort to slowly move out of the school crossing-guard business, the city of Tulsa hopes to eliminate the service at 10 “low-risk” schools beginning in the fall and implement a pilot program that would pay Tulsa Public Schools employees a $1,500 stipend to do the job.
City Manager Jim Twombly said the city would like to try the pilot program at five to 10 schools next school year with the city continuing to provide crossing guards throughout the rest of the city.
“Ideally, we would like to be out of the crossing-guard business all together,” Twombly said.
“And I think what we have seen is it is not something that we are just going to be able to turn off a switch and go out of business. So what we are looking at is: Is there a way for us to ease into that?”
The city currently provides crossing guards to 53 schools and employs 56 part-time crossing guards at an annual cost of $380,000, according to the city.
A crossing guard’s starting hourly pay is $7.55. As part-time employees, they do not receive benefits.
If the stipend program were implemented citywide, Twombly said, the city would pay 43 stipends of $1,500, reducing the cost of the program to $64,500.
Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Keith Ballard said Friday that he could not comment on the proposal because it had not been presented to schools.
“We can say that schools, by law, cannot pay employees as school crossing guards,” Ballard said. “If the city wants to contract directly with school employees on a stipend basis, that would be at the discretion of the city.
“We will be glad to discuss options with the city.”
The elimination of the crossing-guard program was part of Mayor Dewey Bartlett’s official 2015 budget proposal. However, the mayor made it clear to the City Council that although he did not see the program as a long-term core service of the city, he would work with them to find funding for the program in 2015 to give officials more time to work out an alternative.
Twombly said reducing the number of schools served next school year and implementing the stipend pilot program would reduce the amount needed to fund the program by $50,000 to $75,000.
With those savings, he added, “we are getting closer to $300,000 to run the (crossing guard) program next year and that puts us in a much better situation as to what we can do next year.”
Twombly said the city is well aware that Tulsa Public Schools is dealing with funding issues of its own and that students often must navigate busy streets to get to their schools.
“So maybe there is something between the full-blown program that we have today and us being completely out of the business,” he said.
The city rated the risk of each school crossing by the number of students using the crosswalks, traffic count, existing automated pedestrian traffic controls and other factors to come up with a list of low-, medium- and high-risk schools, Twombly said.
He declined to share the list until the city could consult with the school system about its findings.
Tulsa Public Schools would not be the only local school system affected by the proposed change in the crossing guard program.
The city of Tulsa provides crossing guards to Jenks, Broken Arrow and Union schools within the city limits.
Each has three schools that have crossing guards paid for by the city of Tulsa.
“The loss of them would result in a financial burden for us because the areas are not safe without crossing guards,” said Charlie Bushyhead, assistant superintendent for support services with Union Public Schools.
Jenks Public Schools spokeswoman Bonnie Rogers said the school district would like to see the crossing-guard program kept alive.
“Our hope is the city of Tulsa will continue this program due to the high amount of traffic on city streets and the safety of students,” Rogers said.
The city’s school crossing-guard program has been in place since at least the early 1950s. The Traffic Engineering Department took over the program from the Police Department in the early 1970s.
The program is paid out of the city’s general fund, which explains why the mayor is looking to — at a minimum — drastically reduce the cost of the program.
The Mayor’s Office, working with department heads, slashed approximately $17 million from the 2015 general fund budget to close the gap between requested funding and revenue projections.
Bartlett’s proposed general fund budget for 2015 is $260.4 million, a decrease of $5.4 million, or 5.4 percent, from this year’s original budget.