AUGUSTA — School officials plan to seek volunteers to serve as crossing guards and take other steps to help young students walk to and from school safely.

But those steps don’t include reversing a decision made over the summer to eliminate the city’s 10 paid crossing guards.

In addition to seeking volunteers willing to help elementary school students cross the street, school officials also plan to ask city officials if speed limits can be lowered near some schools, if enforcement of those speed limits can be stepped up, and to look into having at least one student who regularly crosses busy Western Avenue to get to Lincoln School take the bus instead of walking.

The Board of Education’s Personnel Committee voted 3-0 over the summer to eliminate the city’s crossing guards. That move came after school administrators noted in their review last school year that no students crossed at five of the 10 crossing locations in the morning or afternoon. Board members said this summer they would re-evaluate whether crossing guards were needed after the school year starts.

Parents criticized the decision before the school year started, noting children have to cross four-lane roads such as Bangor Street and Western Avenue where many motorists exceed the speed limit and expressing fears a child could get hit by a car with no adult on hand to stop cars so they can cross safely.

The Personnel Committee reviewed the issue Monday night, but declined to bring paid crossing guards back, at least not until school officials try to find volunteers to help students cross streets first.

“Very, very, very few communities have crossing guards anymore, and those who do cross, cross with volunteers,” Superintendent James Anastasio said. “Most people reacting (negatively to the news the crossing guards were eliminated) are reacting to what they remember walking to school as children. But very few children walk to school now. Many more parents drive their children to school than in the past.”

Augusta already has one volunteer crossing guard, though she told committee members Monday she can’t really afford to volunteer, especially because it means time away from another paying job to do so.

Sherry MacArthur, of Farmingdale, who has helped students across busy Western Avenue on their way to and from Lincoln Elementary School for the last nine years as a paid crossing guard, has been reporting for work anyway this school year, even though the school department cut her position.

She said she was — and still is — worried about the children she helps across the street and her conscience wouldn’t let her not show up for crossing guard duty, even though she wasn’t being paid to be there. She said she hoped her job would be restored. She said often, on the four-lane Western Avenue, some motorists will stop for her as she helps children cross, but others fly right by without even slowing down. She said she typically gets three kids crossing in the morning and afternoon.

“I would like to get paid for it. It’s part of my budget. I’m taking time out from working somewhere else to do this,” MacArthur said Monday. “I’m volunteering because I don’t want anything to happen to the kids. I couldn’t not be there, because I’ve seen what happens, even when I’m there. I already had a close call this year. You think you’ve got all the cars stopped, but you don’t.”

Kim Martin, an at-large board member, said she was concerned about the time it would take to seek volunteers when a safety concern has been identified.

“I’m concerned with the concept of ‘We know it is dangerous and a problem, let’s keep our fingers crossed until we solve it,'” she said. “If you know there is a safety problem, you don’t fix it a month from now.”

Martin said the crossing on Western Avenue near Cushman Street and the crossing on Eastern Avenue for Farrington Elementary School stand out to her as being appropriate places to have crossing guards.

Anastasio noted even if the school board at some point decides to bring paid crossing guards back, it would take time to advertise and go through the hiring process.

Susan Campbell, chairwoman of the Board of Education, said many children cross the street anyway, even when school is not in session.

“Do you think those kids don’t cross the road all summer long to get to the playground” and other places? Campbell said. “I think kids are crossing all the time.”

Earlier this school year Anastasio and Donna Madore, assistant superintendent, spent time observing all of the school crossing locations where guards were previously stationed.

They saw no children cross at four of the crossings. As few as one and as many as five crossed at the other crossings near schools.

Anastasio said students who crossed appeared to know how to cross the street. Students crossing at intersections where there are flashing lights that indicate when someone is crossing the street pushed the button to activate the flashing lights, waited for cars to stop and crossed. Those at intersections without flashing lights waited at the corner until it was safe to cross, then did so, on the two days Anastasio observed at various crossings.

In 2014 Augusta spent $52,500 and in 2013 $61,000 on crossing guards, according to Kathy Casparius, business manager for the schools. Crossing guards were paid nearly $9 hourly for three hours of work each school day.

Anastasio said he would talk to City Manager William Bridgeo to look into whether the city can lower speed limits, at least during school hours, near schools; increase speed enforcement near schools; and report back to the Personnel Committee.

Madore said she would speak to First Student, the schools’ bus contractor, to see if one student identified as crossing Western Avenue regularly could be picked up on a bus route instead.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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