AUGUSTA — The Board of Education agreed to restore two of 10 eliminated school crossing guard jobs to help students cross what officials, parents and crossing guards agreed are the most dangerous crossings in the city on Western and Eastern avenues.

Board members at a special meeting Thursday heard from parents who said even they don’t feel safe crossing some of the city’s streets without crossing guards, let alone allowing their young children to cross to get to and from school without an adult present.

Former crossing guards said they’ve almost been hit multiple times by inattentive, speeding or drunken drivers while helping children across the street.

In response, board members asked Superintendent James Anastasio to bring two crossing guards back to work the busy crossings on Western and Eastern avenues and to be paid an unspecified stipend.

“When we’ve got streets that don’t feel safe to cross, even as an adult, we really need to try to find a way to put crossing guards back in place,” said Amanda Bartlett, a school board member. “Sometimes safety is expensive. We just have to find a way to make that a priority and get that done.”

The school department eliminated the crossing guards who used to help students cross streets at crossings near elementary schools this year after the school board’s three-member personnel committee voted over the summer to eliminate the 10 crossing guard positions.

Superintendent James Anastasio said the change was made because very few students walk to school now. He said many who don’t take the bus get rides to and from school from their parents or other caregivers.

Anastasio and Donna Madore, assistant superintendent, spent time observing all of the school crossing locations earlier this year and said they saw no children cross at four of the crossings. As few as one and as many as five crossed at the other crossings.

James Weymouth, a lifelong resident of Augusta who last year worked as a crossing guard near Farrington Elementary School on Eastern Avenue, said last year he typically had 13 children cross in the morning and 10 in the afternoon. He said he was nearly hit by cars three times last school year, including once by a drunken driver during the morning crossing before 8 a.m. when he pushed children back out of the road as the driver continued through the crossing. “Whether you reappoint me or someone else, you need a crossing guard there.”

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 just under $9 an hour for three hours of work each school day.

At a meeting earlier this month, school board members asked for volunteers to serve as crossing guards. As of Thursday, no volunteers had come forward, according to Anastasio.

Board members, in an informal poll at Thursday’s workshop meeting at which no formal votes may be taken, directed Anastasio to seek two crossing guards to work the Western and Eastern avenue crossings and to be paid by a stipend.

Anastasio warned the crossing guards won’t be on the job immediately, as school policy requires the positions to be advertised. Even previous crossing guards would have to reapply for the jobs if they want them.

Parent Stacy Fortunato, whose son goes to Lincoln Elementary School, said her son doesn’t walk to school every day, but sometimes she does walk to school to walk back with him. She said she doesn’t feel safe unless Sherry McArthur, a former paid crossing guard who voluntarily has been helping students cross Western Avenue this school year, is there.

“Crossing guards do save lives, and they are protecting our kids, and that is very important to me,” Fortunato said.

Board member Larry Ringrose said offering parents of children who walk across Western and Eastern avenues to have their children picked up by a bus on a nearby bus route instead would be a good compromise, and it would be cheaper to add a bus stop than to hire a crossing guard. He said the four-lane Western Avenue is so dangerous he doesn’t want any children at those sites.

However, he did not object to the proposal to bring back two crossing guards for two crossings.

Anastasio had noted earlier that two families whose children cross Western Avenue were offered to have their children, instead of walking to school, picked up at bus stops, but they politely declined.

Kerri Wyman, whose 10-year-old son, Keygan, used to walk across Western Avenue to get to Lincoln Elementary, said hers was one of the families offered a bus stop, but they declined because they had made other arrangements with two other boys who crossed there.

She said if a crossing guard were at the site, they’d return to crossing there.

Kimberly Martin, a board member, said she asked that the issue be discussed by the full board because she didn’t think committees should make such decisions.

“I feel like our committees are for making recommendations, not decisions,” Martin said. “I think it should have been a bigger, whole-board discussion.”

Personnel committee members agreed at their Sept. 8 meeting that the school system would seek volunteers to serve as crossing guards and that they would ask city officials to step up enforcement of traffic laws and look into lowering speed limits near elementary schools.

Anastasio said he has spoken with City Manager William Bridgeo, who agreed to see what the city could do.

Until this school year, the Augusta Police Department hired and oversaw the crossing guards, but they were paid by the school department, according to Deputy Police Chief Jared Mills.

This year the Police Department asked to hand over its previous responsibility for overseeing the crossing guards to school officials.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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