AUGUSTA — Seven months after a school board subcommittee voted to cut all 10 of the city’s crossing guards, one guard is back at work, helping children cross Western Avenue near Lincoln Elementary School.

Reggie Gagne, who was one of those 10 former crossing guards let go, was rehired late this year to help children get across the busy four lanes of Western Avenue following concerns from parents that children were at risk of getting hit. School officials said they eliminated the guards to save money and that very few children walk to school now.

In September, school board members asked Superintendent James Anastasio to bring back two crossing guards to work at what they said were the most dangerous crossings for children in the city, Western and Eastern avenues. While the Western Avenue post has been filled, the Eastern Avenue job to help Farrington Elementary School students remains vacant.

Donna Madore, assistant superintendent, said the position is still being advertised and officials still hope to fill it, “as soon as we get a credible applicant.”

The positions, however, don’t pay as much as they did before. The hours have been reduced from three hours to one hour per day or 30 minutes each for the morning and afternoon crossings. Crossing guards will be paid about $2,000 for the 175-day school year, according to Madore, though that amount will be prorated because of their late start.

Sherry McArthur, who previously worked as the Western Avenue crossing guard and volunteered for a while after the position was eliminated, said she didn’t seek either of the two reinstated crossing guard jobs because it pays too little. She said if the pay had remained the same as it was previously, she would have sought one of the crossing guard jobs.

She said it “doesn’t surprise me” that school officials haven’t been able to find anybody to work the Eastern Avenue crossing with the reduced hours.

Gagne, who is retired and lives in Augusta, said he is certainly not getting rich from his job helping children cross the street, but he feels it is filling a needed role, and is a job that allows him time off to spend with his grandchildren during the summer and on school breaks.

Gagne said most mornings and afternoons four kids use the Western Avenue crosswalk where he is stationed.

He said he’s had a number of close calls over the years when he was almost hit by cars or trucks, at his previous crossing position, further down Western Avenue at its intersection with Sewall Street, by St. Michael School. That crossing guard position was not reinstated by the school department.

“Sometimes drivers don’t even want to stop for me, out there with my sign and vest in the middle of the road,” Gagne said on a recent rainy Wednesday at his crossing location. “They’ll just keep going. I just had one like that yesterday.”

Gagne has a hand-held stop sign and a reflective vest and before allowing kids to cross the street, he pushes a button mounted on a post to activate yellow flashing lights to further alert motorists to stop for the crosswalk there.

Madore said with only one crossing guard accepting the job, school administrators chose to station Gagne at the Western Avenue, versus the Eastern Avenue, crossing because “Western Avenue’s traffic just seems higher paced and visibility appears more limited. There are more distractions on that route.”

At the Eastern Avenue crossing, there is a system so anyone looking to cross the street there can push either of two buttons mounted on posts on opposite sides of the street to activate flashing yellow lights.

On a recent afternoon, at least three students coming from Farrington used the crossing, two boys together and, a couple of minutes later, one other boy. The boys pushed the button to activate the flashing lights, and waited to make sure traffic actually stopped, before crossing.

All traffic stopped to allow the students to cross, though one motorist, in the opposite lane from the side students were crossing from, appeared to either not notice, or to disregard, the flashing lights. The driver slowed to a stop rapidly at the last second when the students started to walk across.

The school board’s three-member personnel committee voted 3-0 in June to eliminate crossing guards, primarily because very few students walk to school now, Anastasio said. He said many who don’t take the bus get rides to and from school from their parents or other caregivers.

Anastasio and Madore spent time observing all the school crossing locations earlier this year and said they saw no children cross at four of the now-unmanned crossings. As few as one and as many as five crossed at the other crossings on the days they observed.

The changes, even with one crossing guard back on the job and another being sought to fill the other vacant, position, also save the school department money.

Last school year Augusta spent $52,500 and, in school year 2013, $61,000 on crossing guards, according to Kathy Casparius, business manager for the schools. Having just two crossing guards, paid for one hour per day for a full 175-day school year, would cost about $4,000 per year.

Madore said the school department plans to include funding for two crossing guards in next year’s proposed school budget.

Until this school year, the Augusta Police Department hired and oversaw the crossing guards, but they were paid by the school department. This year, however, the police department asked school officials to take over responsibility for overseeing crossing guards.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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