Rising costs in the crossing guard program has motivated the city to look for savings, including the possibility that two crossing guards might be cut from the program. But that proposal has drawn opposition from an alderman.
Mayor Kathy Ehley's proposed budget for 2014, developed with staff, calls for the $239,900 cost of the program to be reduced by $10,000. There are 36 guards at 35 locations, helping students cross streets safely to attend 14 public and four private schools.
The city's budgeted expenditure for the service has risen by almost 11 percent since 2010, and the figure increased almost 7 percent from 2012 to 2013. Rising costs have been pushed in part by the city's addition of guards over the years.
The Wauwatosa Public Schools policy of early student release on Wednesdays is another factor driving up costs, as guards are present for that earlier release time, and then return to work for private school students, who are getting out at their regular time. The proposed budget notes that this happens in reverse as well, when private schools let out early.
Options for cuts
The program is provided through a contractor, Twin City Security, at a cost of $16.31 per guard per hour, although the guards themselves make less than that. They work an hour at a time during morning and afternoon school release periods.
Although the contract for the service was competitively bid, Twin City was the only provider to respond, said city staff member Anthony Brown, who has presented the issue to standing committees and to the Budget Committee. In a comparison of spending on crossing guards in 13 municipalities from around the state, only West Allis had a higher per-hour cost for first-year crossing guards.
Options for reducing costs included the city providing the service in-house, without a contractor, which inevitably would require a staff coordinator, possibly meaning an addition to the city payroll; the recruitment of parent volunteers, which may have liability ramifications; reducing the guards by two, which would meet the reduction target but may raise student safety concerns; and even cutting five minutes from every shift, which Brown said would reduce costs by $40,000 over the year.
Alderwoman Jill Organ felt that saving money by reducing time would likely make crossing guards even harder for the contractor to recruit, and noted that the job's twice-a-day schedule makes it difficult for a crossing guard to hold another job.
Reducing the number
The budget document itself calls for the reduction and a realignment of the guards to "maintain the more utilized sites."
Two guards supervise crossing at North Avenue and 76th Street, outside of Longfellow Middle School. It is the city's busiest crossing point, with student crossings exceeding 1,000 per day, including morning and afternoon, and east-west and north-south crosswalks, according to crossing guard counts provided to the city by the contractor.
Brown, in an email, emphasized that this is not necessarily the number of children crossing, as some children, crossing two ways, would be counted twice.
As busy as it is, 76th and North is controlled by traffic lights, and some discussion in the Traffic & Safety Committee was given to whether guards are necessary at controlled crossing points. There are eight intersections controlled by stop signs or traffic signals that are also served by a crossing guard.
Some guards are posted at controlled crossings outside Wauwatosa East High School, for example, and Alderman Dennis McBride said in a committee meeting that perhaps high school kids could be trusted to cross safely without a guard.
At the other end of the spectrum, eliminating a crossing guard at a little-used site was discussed in the Budget Committee, with one example being 74th and Center streets, where eight or nine kids cross, according to the Twin City count.
"I'm not comfortable with possibly eliminating two positions," 5th District Alderman Joel Tilleson said, whose district includes the 74th and Center crossing. A child was hit by a car and severely injured in his district, he pointed out.
With improved lane striping on Wauwatosa Avenue and safety improvements scheduled for North Avenue, "how could I book-end those successes by, at the same time, supporting a cut in the crossing guard program? I'm just not ready to make that decision," he said in an interview.
Alderman Jason Wilke said during the budget meeting that the Traffic & Safety Committee had asked for a committee to look into the crossing guard situation, and that committee should be allowed to complete its work before a reduction in guards is approved. And Tilleson and Alderman Craig Wilson said they were uncomfortable with an unspecified financial cut being approved without knowing what the reduction would entail, or whether it was appropriate.
In the end, the matter was held for at least a week, and will be considered at a future Budget Committee meeting. Tilleson said he would work with Finance Director John Ruggini to find other savings.
Your link to the biggest stories in the suburbs delivered Thursday mornings.
Enter your e-mail address above and click "Sign Up Now!" to begin receiving your e-mail newsletter Get the Newsletter!
- Late-falling leaves a headache for Wauwatosa
- Birschel says he will not run for re-election
- Police: Man slumped over in broken car arrested for OWI
- Ask NOW: What is the purpose of Discovery Parkway?
- Scam perpetrators use identity of local company
- This Week in Tosa History: Dec. 5
- Property tax bills hit mailboxes next week
- Skate park fundraising reaches $240,000
- More than 1,000 go blue for Sebena
- New Swan Blvd. soon to open as Mayfair work ends north of I-94