When school starts next fall in Riverside there may be fewer crossing guards to help children navigate the crosswalks of the village.

Unless the Riverside Elementary School District 96 Board of Education moves off its position that it won’t contribute any more money to help pay crossing guard salaries, the Riverside village government is prepared to slash what it contributes.

“The more research I have done on this, the more I’ve become convinced that a 50-50 share is proper,” said Riverside Village President Ben Sells to fellow members of the village board on March 6.

In February, the District 96 school board voted overwhelmingly to reject a proposed intergovernmental agreement whereby the village and school district would evenly split the cost for crossing guard salaries, which in 2014-15 are projected to be $69,260.

The agreement also called on the village to fund the entire cost of administering the program, training crossing guards and providing them with equipment. That cost is projected to be $17,800.

But school board members balked at the proposal which would result in District 96 paying about $34,600 for crossing guards versus the roughly $18,000 they’re paying in 2013-14.

School board members offered varying reasons for rejecting the village’s proposal. Some felt funding crossing guards was the village’s responsibility, because it was a matter of public safety. Others called it a budgetary issue. School board President Mary Rose Mangia, said she was open to increasing the school district’s share, but not to 50 percent.

Riverside trustees, however, appear ready to hold firm on the issue, saying that there is no provision in Illinois law that mandates municipalities are responsible for providing crossing guards at all.

While Illinois law states that a municipality “may” provide crossing guards, it also states that a school board may also fund crossing guards or enter into an agreement with a municipality to share the expense.

“For many years there was a sense that this is a village responsibility,” said Sells. “That’s a matter of time and tradition more than anything else.”

Instead, following a village board discussion on March 6 of the school board’s rejection of the proposed agreement, Riverside appears to be intending to simply match, dollar for dollar, what District 96 intends to budget for crossing guards for the next school year.

If District 96 keeps funding at $18,000, then the total amount for salaries next school year will be $36,000 — about half the amount needed to fund the six crossing guards the village now provides.

“I think we should dig our heels in,” said Village Trustee Michael Foley.

Trustee Joseph Ballerine said he didn’t want to give the impression that the safety of school children was a budget line item, but said it was time for the school district to contribute fairly with respect to crossing guards.

“It’s time for us to share,” Ballerine said. “It’s an expense brought upon the village solely because of the schools.”

With respect to the argument that public safety was the village’s burden to shoulder, Trustee Doug Pollock said it’s one that should be shared.

“Public safety is everyone’s responsibility,” Pollock said. “We have in our organization some expertise in public safety, and I think it’s very gracious of us to volunteer it at no cost to our school districts.”

As to the salaries for crossing guards, “Employment costs, I agree, should be split 50-50,” Pollock said.

Sells referred back to state statute to make his case that the cost ought to be shared.

“The fact that no municipality is required to provide this service, and that state statute specifically empowers the school board to do so — I think that’s a significant point,” Sells said. “For a village to provide half the cost it doesn’t have to provide at all is, to me, eminently fair, and especially if we’re going to continue to underwrite the administration, equipment and scheduling of the program.”

Asked how such a cut might affect crossing guard staffing, Police Chief Thomas Weitzel said he needed to look closer at the numbers, but that it would result in reductions.

“If things stay as they stated, I don’t believe we’d be able to keep all six guards we have,” Weitzel said. “I’d really have to look at the crossings and see which ones we’d eliminate.”

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