By Bob Uphues
After being unceremoniously rebuffed three years ago, the village of Riverside again has proposed a cost-sharing arrangement for crossing guards with both Riverside School District 96 and Riverside-Brookfield High School District 208.
While Riverside officials back the plan and are optimistic that the school districts might be more amenable to such an arrangement this time around, the D96 school board isn't exactly jumping at the opportunity.
The proposal comes in the wake of meetings between the president of the village board, Ben Sells, and the president of the D96 board, Mary Rose Mangia. The purpose of the meeting, apart from a way for the two elected leaders to get better acquainted, was to see if there were any opportunities for collaboration between the two governmental bodies.
"We all work for the same community," said Riverside Village Manager Peter Scalera, who added that he had met with D96 Superintendent Bhavna Sharma-Lewis. "If we're able to improve services on all ends, we want to be open to that."
D96 and the village of Riverside have had a cost-sharing arrangement for three specific crossing guards for a number of years. The school district pays 100 percent of the cost of the crossing guard at Ames School, 50 percent of the crossing guard at First and Forest avenues and 10 percent of the cost at the railroad crossing in downtown Riverside.
Last year, the total cost to D96 for those crossing guards was $18,107, while the village picked up the remaining $49,795. The village also pays for the cost of managing crossing guards, training them and providing them with uniforms and equipment.
The latest proposal asks D96 to split the cost 50-50 with the village for five of the six crossing guards located throughout Riverside. The cost of the sixth crossing guard, at First Avenue, would be split three ways between the village, D96 and D208.
Such an arrangement would mean that for the 2014-15 school year (and allowing for a 2 percent raise for crossing guards), D96 and the village would each pay $32,668 while Riverside-Brookfield High School would chip in $3,809. The net increase for D96 would come to about $14,500.
"It's a great way for multiple taxing bodies to come together and do what's best for the community as a whole," said Riverside Trustee Joseph Ballerine at a meeting of the village board on Dec. 19, where trustees voted unanimously to approve a resolution authorizing the village to enter into an intergovernmental agreement with the two school districts to share the cost of crossing guards..
But at least three of the seven school board members voiced opposition to the plan at their meeting on Dec. 17, and another said he wants more information on what the arrangements are for crossing guard expenses in other communities before deciding.
The D96 school board is scheduled to meet again on Jan. 21. The Riverside-Brookfield High School board's next meeting is Jan. 14.
"Ultimately, I'm not in support of this because the village needs to be responsible for public safety," said D96 school board member Art Perry. "The other thing that's totally not even addressed here is, have you been approached by the village of Brookfield? Because they provide two crossing guards."
D96 schools board member Michael O'Brien said he wouldn't vote to fund crossing guards any more than the district already does.
"I agree with everything you said, Art," said O'Brien. "I don't think we should pay for it."
Meanwhile, Rachel Marrello asked if St. Mary School had been approached about the cost-sharing arrangement.
"What about St. Mary's?" Marrello asked. "They use the crossing guards, too. I see it every morning, so I'm not inclined to proceed on this."
Scalera indicated he was aware of the Dec. 17 school board discussion and said that even if the two agencies can't come to an agreement on crossing guards, he wants to continue the discussions.
"My hope is that we can reach an agreement," said Scalera. "Regardless of the outcome, we're not going to change the way we intend to work with the district or how we provide services to them."