The city told the school district it could not afford to provide crossing guards at the two new schools, according to district officials.
“We need those crossing guards. I don’t know how a city can say we’re opening two new schools and they’re not going to provide crossing guards. It’s unconscionable. I don’t know how you can do that,” said James Smith, director of security at the Paterson Public Schools, at the school board meeting on Wednesday night.
The city’s police department stations crossing guards at various intersections close to schools to allow students safe passage to-and-fro from school. No crossing guards have been assigned to the Hani Awadallah School or the new School 16, confirmed a police department official.
Some council members said they were not aware of the crossing guard issue. Council president William McKoy said he was not aware of the situation adding the city has to provide crossing guards to both schools.
“We have to provide coverage until we can figure out the expense. We shouldn’t put children at risk while we squabble over who is paying for it,” said McKoy on Thursday morning.
A crossing guard is paid $11,000, according to municipal records. The council president said the intersection may have to be manned by police officers until crossing guards are assigned.
Police said they cannot bring on additional crossing guards without a greenlight from the administration.
Councilman Andre Sayegh, who represents the 6th Ward, where the two schools are located, sent a memorandum to mayor Jose “Joey” Torres urging him to assign school crossing guards to both of the schools before students return to school on Tuesday.
“The mayor has to find the funding. Pedestrian safety is a top priority especially when it comes to our children,” said Sayegh. He recalled the mayor shutting down the schools in 2007 for dangerous fire code violations that would have placed students at risk. “So in that same spirt, if he’s really concerned about the safety of students, it’s not much to ask to provide crossing guards,” he said.
Councilman Michael Jackson, chairman of the public safety committee, said he is also calling on the administration to ensure crossing guards are in place at both schools. “I’ll put in a request to the mayor’s office to make sure we have those positions covered,” said Jackson.
The mayor’s office provided a statement from police chief William Fraher that said the city’s budget reflects the staffing of 130 crossing guards. The city has 112 of them for duty. Those guards are assigned as needed, said the chief.
“Should crossing guards not be available it is city policy to assign police officers to cover these posts,” said Fraher in a statement.
Fraher’s office did not provide intersections police or crossing guards will be manning at the two new schools.